Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?

I haven’t had that many full-time jobs, but the circumstances of my hiring have always been eccentric.

Fresh out of university I answered an advertisement for a place at a commodities exchange. They were looking for a librarian, which effectively meant a jumped up file clerk. That suited me. I didn’t want anything too taxing, as I planned on attending night school for interior design. (That’s another story.)

One look at the HR man at the Coffee, Sugar, and Cocoa Exchange (4 World Trade Center), and I breathed a sigh of relief. He was gay as a goose. If I had an Indian name it would be Runs With Fairies. What could possibly go wrong?

“Did the employment agency tell you about the job? Do you think you know what’s involved?” He asked.

I bounced forward on my seat and said, “It sounds exactly like the Hepburn and Tracy movie, Desk Set. People in the company would come to me seeking information and I’d retrieve it for them.”

I was hired pretty much on the spot.

A few years later, applying for a part time job typing recipes for Weight Watchers Magazine, I was asked for a potted autobiography.

“Goodness, you sound interesting,” she said.

And I heard myself replying: “Well, I am my life’s work.”

She hired me.

In between those memorable occasions I landed what seemed like my dream job. It was July of 1983, and I applied to be the Promotions Assistant at Crown Publishers, which back in those days was owned by the legendary Nat Wartels.

I didn’t know that the post had been vacant for months, and that a troop of young hopefuls had already planted themselves in front of the department manager and director and been dismissed as utterly unsuitable. I did know that I arrived on the appointed day a few minutes ahead of time only to be told that they were too busy to see me. Could I please come back in the morning?

Which I did, even more nervous than before. I really, really wanted this job. I really, really wanted to work in publishing. What book mad creature doesn’t? (At least until they see how the industry operates, and by then it’s too late.)

The manager interviewed me and seemed to like what I said. She asked me to wait while she got her boss. That took some time. I didn’t realise she was in there pleading, “Please, come meet her. This one’s different.”

Unbeknownst to me it hadn’t been an excess of work that kept them from grilling me the previous afternoon. They told me later that they were sick and tired of wasting their time interviewing idiots.

With a weary look on her face the Promotions Director dragged herself into the room and asked me a few questions. I was keen to get the answers right. Very keen. Therefore, when she asked, “So, have you always wanted to work in publishing?”, I panicked a little. The correct answer surely had to be yes, but it wasn’t the honest answer.

“Weeeeeeel. No. When I was growing up I wanted to be a ballerina.”

She kept a poker face, concluded the interview, and left the room. That evening I was offered the job, and all these hundreds of years later I am proud to say that I’m back in contact with this remarkable woman.

I’d been on the job about a year when she revealed that she’d hired me because I was sarcastic. I am sarcastic, but I couldn’t figure out what she meant. She recounted the anecdote, saying that I’d been hired on the basis of that answer. “I figured anyone with the chutzpah to open up a fresh mouth to me during their job interview was going to be fun to work with.”

“But I wasn’t being cheeky, I was being honest,” I said. Which just made her laugh all the harder.

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