Questionable Questions

I don’t know what made me think of this, but I was just remembering the last big interview I had.  The year, 1999.  I was working for a county in Southern Oregon as a juvenile probation officer.  I’d been in that job for a couple of years, loved the work, but was looking at moving north, back up toward Portland and the family and friends I had near and around there.  I’d been thinking about it for a while, but there hadn’t been any job openings anywhere near Portland for some time.

One day I was using the copier at work and posted right above it was a job announcement for an opening in a small county next to the county Portland is in.  That would be Columbia for those of you who know it, and for those who don’t.  I saw the announcement and knew I had to apply.  They were small, which I liked, and on the Columbia River.  I applied, ended up number one on their list, and got an interview.  Yay!  Or maybe I should have said yay?

I’m not good at interviewing.  In fact, I sort of suck at it.  It’s not that I don’t think I know what I’m doing, or am confident in my abilities.  I am.  It’s just that I don’t much like talking about myself.  At least not in that way.  List your best strength, your greatest weakness, etc.  Yuck.  But it’s a necessary evil, so we do it.  I did it, sort of.

I made the drive up, four hours North of where I was, stopping at my mom’s place to say hi.  I should have known I was going to struggle that day as I ended up getting a speeding ticket just after I left Mom’s.  My head was already at the interview and not on the road.  I deserved the ticket, but getting it threw me off my game even more.

I found the town, the courthouse, and the department pretty much without incident.  Thank goodness.  I was dressed up in my best suit jacket, code for my only suit jacket, with some nice pants and shoes.  Anyone who knows me knows I don’t dress up, normally, so just finding something to wear was a feat.  I walked in, gave them my name, and was instructed to sit in the waiting area.  The courthouse was historic, which I thought was cool.  The doors into the department were two big swinging doors, wooden with windows in them.  The decor in the department was old, the pictures hanging on the walls dating back 20 years, at least.  The desks the secretaries were sitting at were ancient, the kind with drawers that stick, and the counter had probably been there for decades.  I liked it all immediately.  Which made it worse since I felt the atmosphere suited me.  Liking it there meant wanting it more.  My nerves grew.

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A gentleman came out and introduced himself as the Director of the department and escorted me back to his office.  He was nicely dressed.  There were four people in there, besides me.  Four.  All of them nicely dressed.  Great.  They all looked polished and there were so so many of them.  Pretty shy, I struggle with knowing what to say, and having to say it to more than one person is a definite challenge for me.  Unless of course it’s a group of 300 and I know what I’m talking about.  Go figure.

So I went in, sat down, and everyone was introduced to me — director, two senior probation officers, and the office manager.  Uhg.  They were all nice, had great smiles, were very welcoming.  I could have thrown up.  I attempted to make small talk.  My talk was very small.  I have no idea what I said, and am grateful for the forgetting.  I’m sure it wasn’t riveting in any way, and probably involved the weather.

Questions.  There are always questions when one interviews for a job.  Silly practice, but there it is.  I was asked questions, most of which were pretty easy actually as they were related directly to the job.  I can talk about what I do all day, or how I think it should be done.  My answers were much too short, but I had them.  Then the dreaded questions started — what do you see as your biggest strength, what is your biggest weakness, where do you think you could improve, yada yada yada.  They weren’t exactly those, but they were similar.  I froze.  I seem to remember mumbling something and then the director, who was a nice guy and probably saw the deer in the headlights look that had come over me, lead me through it.  He started asking more direct questions to prod my answers, thank goodness.  Without him I feel as though I would’ve been a complete and utter jackass.

Afterwards I knew I had semi-blown the interview.  I liked them, felt they liked me, but I knew my answers left something to be desired, having to have my words basically pulled from my mouth by a symbolic team of horses in the form of the Director.  My shyness, and horror at talking about myself, got the best of me that day.  When I left, after having been given the tour of the very cool courtroom I would work in if I got the job (It was old style, all wood and windows, the judge’s bench a giant wooden desk, and there was a place in the banister between the gallery and the counsel tables that a shotgun had been stored in the old days.  The secret hole was still there.  Cool.), I questioned whether they would hire me at all.  I really wanted the job, very much, which made it worse.

I made the long drive home, questioning questions and my answers the entire way.  Four hours of going over what I’d been asked and how I had answered, or better yet not answered adequately, some of them.  Nothing to distract me from those thoughts for four hours.  Four.  It was a long drive.

A couple of days passed and no word.  I knew they were interviewing a few people so the decision was going to take a few days, but that didn’t really help.  As a day passed and then another I was sure I’d fumbled my way right out of that job.  No move up North for me.  I was going to be staying in Southern Oregon, which is lovely, but didn’t suit my liberal sensibilities much.  If you’ve read my about page you know how I got the tokenhippygirl moniker and why.  They were lovely people to work with, I was just a square peg in a round hole there.  But I started resign myself to staying, knew I’d just have to wait for another opportunity and try again.

Then it happened.  I got the call.  The Director phoned up and offered the job to me.  Shocking, but true.  I seemed to have won their confidence despite my terrible interview.  They saw through it to who I was and who I could be for them in the position.  Amazing.

I started in June 1999.  I stayed until June 2010, when I had to leave because I got sick.  A long time to be in a job, for me at least.  I loved it there, loved those people.  I still love them and am still friends with them today, even though many miles separate us.  It was a magical place.  The best working environment I’ve ever been lucky enough to be a part of.  The combination of the people and doing work that mattered a great deal were unbeatable.  We were a family.  An incredible family.

Just goes to show that sometimes questionable questions can lead to a wondrous place.  They did for me.  I stumbled and fell into that job, but ended up succeeding there in ways I never, as I sat in that waiting room in my only suit jacket, thought possible.

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