The headhunter, a tiny little sprite named Kimberli (“with an i not a y,” as she told me three times), sat me down and immediately started my evaluation. This involved typing, testing, and displaying my (non-existent) computer skills. Not once did she ask me to discuss whether I considered what Andy Warhol produced to be “art,” nor did she ask me to write a critical essay comparing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s prose to Hemingway’s.
No matter. Kimberli soon determined that my impressive degree with 3.001 GPA, excessive interest in shopping, and a brief period working at a department store during summer breaks could be parlayed into a lucrative career as an entry-level manager for a fashion-forward, well-known retail company. Imagine my delight when Kimberli sent me to the mall at 10 AM the very next day, and told me to park near Saks Fifth Avenue.
I was going to be a buyer for Saks! And then in a few months, I'd be promoted to Director of the Entire Southwest Division!
And make $60,000 to $100,000 a year! Plus bonuses!
And get free designer clothes! Every day!
This was like a dream come true. I had studied up on Saks my entire life, browsing there, trying on Chanel sunglasses, maybe buying a lipstick on sale once or twice, and pretending I could afford to buy a Cynthia Rowley linen sundress for $400. This job would clearly be a perfect fit for me. I was already planning to send Kimberli flowers or perhaps a large Harry and David fruit basket to express my undying gratitude.
I unfolded the little paper Kimberli had printed out with the exact address. 212 Mall Drive, Unit 389-C. Huh, that's strange, I thought to myself. I did not see a “Unit 389-C” on the outside of Saks anywhere. I was too embarrassed to ask at Saks (that might not look very resourceful for a first impression), so I decided to go into the little deli next door.
“Excuse me?” I interrupted the clerk as he was adding quarters to his cash drawer, “Do you know where this address is?”
I handed him the paper.
“Uh, let me grab the employee mall directory,” he said, “just a second.”
He went in the back for a moment and then returned with an 8 ½ x 11 laminated sheet. There was something vaguely sticky and brown on the map, like Dr. Pepper.
“We’re here,” he pointed helpfully, “and whatever you’re looking for is on the other side of Saks, the second shop in.” He had an unusual accent that I couldn't quite place, and the way he said Saks rhymed with snakes.
This laminated map did not have the names of the shops, only the numbers. It looked like it was intended for fire drills or other emergencies, not future buyers of expensive clothes.
“A shop? Are you sure? Could it be an office? You know, like an annex?” I inquired. Maybe Saks did all their hiring and HR stuff in an adjacent office because their store was so successful and they were expanding.
“Miss,” he said, already weary at 9:50 in the morning, “I have no idea.”
I walked the long way around Saks to the address. There was a beautiful stationery store, The Written Word, on the other side. I like paper and pens, I mused. I could be the manager of a stationery store. Maybe they would send me to London or Paris on buying trips every few months. That might be okay.
Then I looked at the address again. The deli guy had said it was the second shop in.
Kimberli had lied to me! Payless Shoes! This wasn’t Saks!
What kind of scam was she trying to pull? I was mentally cancelling the fruit basket. Kimberli had said “manager for a fabulous department store,” hadn’t she? On second thought, maybe she’d said “well-known retail company” and I just filled in the gaps?
Speaking of gap, Gap would even be better than this. If she had sent me to Gap, I would be disappointed, but not severely depressed.
There had to be some mistake. Why would I go to a headhunter to get a job at Payless Shoes? Why would anybody? Surely any high-school drop-out could waltz in and get a job there in about three seconds.
I told myself I needed to be professional and at least meet the interviewer. I walked in and there was name-tag-wearing Jeffrey, refilling a box of stretchy sanitary foot stockings to try shoes on with.
“May I help you?” he asked, looking up. He was wearing jeans and a gray t-shirt with a small hole.
“Uh, I think I have an appointment. I’m MOV?” I said like a question. I suddenly felt very self-conscious about my navy-blue silk interview suit and pearls. I lamented spending 30 minutes styling my hair into an impeccable French twist and shellacking it into place with a gallon of hairspray.
“For the assistant manager trainee position?” he verified.
“I guess,” I semi-whispered.
“Great! So nice to meet you! I'm Jeffrey, the manager. I'll be doing the interview. Let me just get Chad out here to cover the floor for a minute.”
Someone with a name tag that said Chad appeared. He was wearing flip-flops, chewing gum, and carrying a bottle of Windex.
“Hey, Chad,” said Jeffrey cheerfully, “be nice to MOV here because she could be your new boss if I get transferred to San Jose!”
I was thinking that I would like to be transferred to San Jose, or The Written Word, or back in Kimberli’s cubicle, anywhere but here.
Jeffrey was holding a clipboard. “MOV, it’s a gorgeous day outside. Whaddya say we get some fresh air and sit on the bench directly in front of the store to do the interview?”
My mind raced ahead. What if someone I knew happened to walk by and see me interviewing for Payless Shoes? I did not want to interview. I wanted to tell Jeffrey there was no way in hell I was going to work here selling plastic discount shoes with flip-flopping, gum-chomping, Windex-toting Chad.
“You know what, Jeffrey? Uh, I am actually extremely allergic to the sun. I turn red just thinking about the sun. We’d better talk inside. Do you have an office? Or back stockroom? Or broom closet?”
“The bench outside is shaded by that giant oak tree, though,” Jeffrey offered sympathetically.
“NO. I’m also allergic to shade. And trees. And fresh air.”
We walked back to the office. It was a about the size of my kitchen table, only slightly smaller. It was decorated in shades of nicotine and regret.
“Have a seat,” said Jeffrey, gesturing to a short step-ladder as he took my resume gingerly out of my hand.
“Look, Jeffrey,” I began, still standing, “I love shoes. I love paying less. But I don’t love Payless Shoes. This was not exactly the job I thought I was applying for.” I was embarrassed for myself, and I started to feel very sorry for Jeffrey working here, or even in San Jose. Maybe he shouldn't wear shirts with holes in them and then he could find a better job.
Jeffrey’s shoulders tensed up. “Yeah, no problem, I’ve heard that before. I wish the headhunter was allowed to tell you the name of the company so we wouldn’t have to waste our time talking to candidates with no interest in the job.” He folded up my resume, making a stiff crease.
“I’m really sorry,” I said sheepishly. “I know I wasted your time. I wasted my own time, too.”
“Okay, then, well—good luck with whatever job you thought you were applying for then.” He reached out to shake my hand. His hand felt clammy.
I drove straight to Kimberli’s office. I waited in the reception area for 15 minutes while she finished up with another victim. Finally, the receptionist sent me in.
“MOV! Great to see you! How did it go at the retail manager interview?” She was smiling a sincere smile, without a hint of irony.
“Not well.” I glared at her and her fluffy blond hair and her Cole Haan red leather shoes. “I do not want to work at Payless.”
“Okay, no problem. Jeffrey just called a minute ago and said you were somewhat disappointed. I have another job that is more for someone like yourself, someone with a college degree and a lot of ambition. Tell me, would you be willing to relocate to Seattle?”
“What is the job?”
“Well, it’s also a consumer product, but it’s food-related.” She blinked at me.
I was 23 years old and scared of this five-foot dynamo named Kimberli. I wanted to say, “Yo, Kimberli, what’s the deal with all the secrecy and mystery? Are you only a headhunter for crappy companies that no one would want to interview for and so you are forced to not reveal their true identities?”
What I did say: “Kimberli, is it McDonald’s? I can’t work at McDonald’s. I am not moving to Seattle to work at McDonald’s.”
Kimberli shuffled some papers around. “MOV, it is not McDonald’s, I promise you that. We are not really supposed to say the name of the companies. But, I can tell you it is a fast-growing food outlet, and you would be working in the corporate office doing marketing. There is huge potential for growth worldwide. You would be getting in on the ground level, and you would be on the fast track to be promoted if you work hard. There's stock options, too.” She said stock options with glitter in her voice like you might say vacation in the Bahamas.
I put on my Kimberli filter and instantly pictured myself Xeroxing fliers in the back of a Hot Dog on a Stick food truck parked near the Seattle airport.
“No thanks, Kimberli. I think I’ll just get my old job back at the gym in that case. You can go ahead and take my name out of your data base. I don’t want to move up to rainy Seattle and work for some stupid company no one’s ever heard of before.”
“MOV, you are missing out on a great opportunity here! I would jump at this job myself if my fiancé didn’t have a job here at the military base. Trust me.”
I looked at Kimberli’s pretty green eyes surrounded by thick globs of mascara.
“No. Have a good day, Kimberli. Thanks so much for all your help.” I tried to contain the sarcasm in my voice.
As Kimberli stood up to shake my hand, she dropped some of her papers on the floor. I leaned down to help her pick them up. There was a green mermaid logo on the folder on top.
“This was the company, MOV: Sunbucks. No, wait, Starbucks. Apparently, they specialize in coffee.”
“Sounds kinda dumb to me. No one's gonna pay high prices for coffee. That company will go out of business for sure. Ha! Good luck finding someone for that job, Kimberli. Have a nice day.”
(“Manages Onward Vision”)