Short Story Sunday: Conversation Pitfalls

I shouldn’t have been too surprised when I opened my email but I was. The subject: Job, the sender: Anne, my sister. I opened the e-mail to find a link to a webpage: What to say and not to say in a job interview. Oh my God, it’s finally happened, my older sister doesn’t trust me talking to an employer. Did she think I was that absentminded? I understand I’m between jobs often but it’s not because I don’t know how to talk to a boss. Immediately I closed the webpage and called my mom to complain.

Jobs and my family tend to share similar characteristics in my life. Both have the ability to drastically affect how my day is flowing - both don’t know they just affected it, I turn to my family for advice - I turn to my job for money, I complain about my job - I complain about my family, you must work at a job – and you must work within your family. They both require you in a specific mold and they see a side of you that average society does not.

I told my mother and sister some time ago that I’ll enjoy what I do for my career, that I won’t fall into the life habits of so many people around me. This statement was exactly what I was reiterating to my mom. I went on explaining that I live in Los Angeles and it’s difficult to get a career job right away. I wondered why my logical sister didn’t understand this. My mom went on to comfort me telling me that my sister is the conservative one in the family, she went to school, she got good grades, and then she proceeded to take a stable job to support herself.

I didn’t look at myself as some vagabond who didn’t have things together and that’s clearly how my sister looked at me. I carried a feeling of sibling punishment, whether she was aware of it or not I never felt like my sister understood the steps I was taking, she never could grasp that I had a plan. I truly believe she thought I was having fun in LA. She thought I was living a life where I didn’t take things seriously.

In four hours I was meeting with Dean at a literary management company. I was interviewing to do coverage. Coverage is something that has to be done on all pieces of writing.  Authors or clients submit their work to the literary company, I’d read over it and give the company my thoughts, they’d pay me, that’s the coverage. This seems like a great fit for me but most importantly it would allow me to leave my job at a sushi restaurant. Don’t get me wrong I love sushi but it’s beginning to take it’s toll on me.

Although my mom managed to insert some calm in me I still paced around my apartment. Eventually I stopped. My irrational part was telling me to call Anne and to let her have it. The other part of me wanted to know why I was so affected by this. I knew there was an inevitable call somewhere but I didn’t know what I would say. Then I wondered, why is this affecting me this way?

Surely Anne didn’t mean any harm from the email, but still to think I am so ill prepared that I didn’t know how to speak to someone in a interview. If anything this is where I excelled, my communication skills trumped many around me. I always just assume that when I have the opportunity to talk with anyone I’ll win them over. She knew that, so why would she send this? It hit me that maybe she does think I’m ill prepared, maybe I am? Does she see something I don’t? Maybe I project something that I don’t know about? What I think is confidence may actually just be a blatant cry for help saying I don’t know what I’m doing. Once this hit me I had to calm myself down a little more.

I had to think about Anne’s steps in life, I had to remind myself that she didn’t completely approve of my decisions. I made a move across the country without immediately finishing my education. Anne also made a move across the country but it was to get her bachelors degree, and then it was to get her masters. I had to remind myself she was my older sister and maybe she was just looking out for me, maybe she was genuinely concerned. I remembered the time when we were at a family Christmas and I told my sister that if the sun disappeared the earth wouldn’t know for 8 minutes, she shrugged it off. My educated cousin who attended Yale was an earshot away, he jumped in and confirmed, Anne turned to him and said “Yeah, why is that?”

I was still unsettled, I questioning my existence and thought about schooling.  I even contemplated missing the job interview. I thought somehow if I didn’t go that would show her. There was about two hours left until I had to leave for the interview, I thought I’d give her a call and let her know what this did to me. Surely she must have a explanation to the “How to talk to other people email.”

I called her:

“Hey Anne”


“So, I got your email, I’m not even going to entertain the thought of reading it.”


I went on to tell her how insulting it was to get something to tell me how to talk to a boss. I asked her if she thought I was stupid, I asked if she thought I would make a fool of myself by saying obscene comments and throwing something in the interview.

She thought I should read it, she said there were a few good tips. She thought I didn’t have the experience in a proper job interview and since this was my first “meaningful” interview, she thought it would help.

“Well Anne, it doesn’t help me at all. As a matter of fact it’s insulting! I’m sorry if I don’t make the decisions you want me to make but that’s why we’re not the same person. I know how to talk in a interview, and I know what I’m doing. This didn’t help, but thanks for the effort.”

It was clear from my sarcastic tone and me hanging up on her that my anger got the best of me. I also realized that this may have opened a can of worms, my sister may have meant one thing but I took as something much larger, something that I wasn’t ready to dive into. When I got ready for my interview I calmed myself a bit, and then I left.

I walked into the management company wearing my go to outfit, khaki pants and a blue buttoned up shirt. I strolled with confidence and a chip on my shoulder. I talked to the assistant and told her I was waiting for Dean. I entered his office and saw a large man with a grayish beard, he has a radiating smile which somewhat eliminated my shoulder chip. He stood up to shake my hand, his genuine introduction eased me a little more, and by the time I sat across from him at his desk I was feeling great.

Dean and I immediately hit it off. It turned out he had some family that was from my home state of Wisconsin and he had been to visit Madison a few times. He mentioned the long nights he had “while he was younger” I added fuel to the fire and added some of my own Madison stories. We both agreed they had the most bars per capita. His constant deep laugh was entertaining me, I felt that he was already my boss, and furthermore it made me feel like he was my friend. No wonder he’s a manager he’s completely personable.

After the Wisconsin talk we went on about my current sushi restaurant, he was familiar with it. I let him know it’s a great place but I’m ready to move on. Working in a late night Los Angeles restaurant environment is taxing, the people who surround you are characters, typically drunk and always looking to enjoy the night when work is done. He questioned how much I make in tips, this was a perfect transition for me to bring up the salary for this position, it was substantially better.

Dean was a joy to be around, we chatted for about ten more minutes until we both realized this interview was running long. We turned out to have a few similar acquaintances, which prolonged heavy job talk. I knew I had to wrap up the conversation. I told him it was great to meet him and I knew he was busy, I expressed my ambitions and told him I looked forward to hearing back them. Before I walked out he asked if I had any questions, I stopped and thought for a second “no” I realized this had been completely enjoyable, so I told him just that. He smiled we shook hands and breezed past the assistant to head home.

When I got in the first thing I did was call my mom. I’m not typically the person who likes to run things in but I had no choice. I told my mom I couldn’t wait to call Anne I wanted to tell her how great I can communicate, how great the interview went, how simple it was, I wasn’t nervous, and how the boss and I had hit it off. My mom was so happy for me, however she discouraged me from calling my sister. She thought I would just come off as smug and I had to ditch my “Stubborn, I told you so” mentality.

Before I called Anne I knew it was time to open her email, now the subject was humorous, but most importantly now I was right and Anne was wrong. I wanted to educate myself with the email just so it would gave me a little more ammunition. I opened the link and it read:

What to say and not to say in a job interview

How to talk with your future boss and not blow it: 5 things that will help you get the Job

1.     Let them do the talking: dictate the conversation when needed but don’t forget you’re there for a job not to find a date.

2.     Don’t bad mouth your old employer.

3.     Don’t ask about salary, if they don’t say something by the time you walk out the door…then ask.

4.     If they ask you if you have any questions be prepared and don’t let an awkward silence pass.

5.     Why did we meet? Don’t underscore yourself. Remind them that you want this job.

Now after reading these five things I will admit I may have broke into a few of these rules. However, what rules sometimes forget is that there is a time and place for everything. This is Los Angeles and the typical does not apply. There is no how to rulebook living in this town. I felt this was a little more for a 9 to 5, not a literary management company.

I called Anne and let her know I was upset she sent the e-mail. I told her she had to trust my decisions a little more and I nailed the job interview. I expressed that not everything in life is learned from a textbook and that I am able to feel situations out. There are no certain rules when talking to a person because everyone is different. She heard about the big smile of Dean and that he enjoyed my Midwestern roots, I told her that Dean seemed like a good person I’ll learn from and he and I will have a good working relationship. Anne was happy for me and carried a genuine apology. I was happy when I hung up the phone but in my heart knew it was just a band aide for a gunshot. Anne will do something like this again, she won’t trust a decision of mine and take it in her power to try and teach me. However, I will let this moment pass and enjoy my momentary victory.

Two days later I hadn’t heard from anyone about the job, that was okay because I knew they had more interviews to conduct. Day three I still heard nothing and was getting anxious. Now day four came around and I was shocked I hadn’t heard a word. A few of my friends told me this was normal not to hear anything, it certainly didn’t feel normal. I was told I would hear from them by the end of the workweek or the beginning of it.

I decided to give them a call on the fourth day. When I called the assistant answered:

“Hi this is Josh Hallman, I was calling about the coverage position I interviewed for. I was checking to see if there was any progress on the position hired.”

“Hi Josh, yes the position has been filled”

“Oh… You mean the coverage position right? With Dean?”


“Oh, Okay”

“Thank you very much for coming in”

“Sure, thank you. Um, take care”

I was floored. What could have went wrong? How did this just happen? I wanted to call Dean and ask him how it went wrong? I started to analyze everything. I realized that this wasn’t so much about me not getting the job but more about me telling my family I didn’t get it. I just couldn’t believe it.

Maybe I was too buddy-buddy? Maybe I shouldn’t have asked about the salary. Or maybe someone else was just better than me. I had no answers, I was convinced nobody could have had a better interview. I hoped I’d hear something from Dean’s office in the next few days but I didn’t. When I finally accepted defeat in the job I didn’t talk about it with anyone.

About a week in a half later my sister asked about it. She wondered when I was going to start.

“Um, well Anne, it turned out that they hired the bosses nephew. This town is so fickle like that, it’s unfortunate but it’s the way it is I guess.”

I completely lied to my sister but I just didn’t what else to say. She said she’s sorry and that was that. After we hung up I looked over her email once more and couldn’t help but wonder if the 5 things actually were true.