Things Not To Say At A Job Interview
Last week constituted my first, and somewhat rude introduction to the world of large-scale trade publishing. On Monday, I went to interview for an entry-level position at Q, an enormous Upper East Side house whose aesthetic somehow managed to marry the dull, reading-is-fun feel of a rural library with the toothy quality of a Manhattan investment bank. After being ushered through several levels of security measures (private elevators, special keycards for each floor—most likely use of the bathroom required a retinal scan, although I didn’t stick around long enough to find out) I eventually made it to human resources, where I sat in the waiting room and tried to ignore the creeping feeling that I was going in for a check-up.
In general, the interview went well. The questions were all of the generic, softball variety one would expect at a corporate interview (“Describe your ideal work environment.” “Tell me about a conflict you’ve successfully resolved.” “How would your previous bosses describe you?”) and their answers were received with polite smiles and on occasion, feverish note-taking. After about fifteen minutes of conversation about my work ethic and administrative preferences (the world of entry-level editorial work appears to be a glorious one) I was feeling pretty comfortable with the interview’s plodding predictability when the woman asked her final question, and caught me totally off-guard.
“Which literary character do you identify the most with, and why?”
Oh right, this job is about books.
Stunned pause. Stammering.
My friend later suggested I should have said Sade’s Justine, but given the building’s security infrastructure, I’m fairly sure the floor would have opened up beneath me and I would have been promptly dropped back onto the street had I done so. Instead, I said the next best thing, and blurted out the name of the protagonist of the novel I’m currently reading.
Ada tells the life story of Van Veen, and his lifelong love affair with his sister Ada. They meet when she is eleven (soon to be twelve) and he is fifteen, believing that they are cousins (more precisely: that their fathers are cousins and that their mothers are sisters), and begin a sexual affair. They later discover that Van’s father is also Ada’s and her mother is also his. The story follows the various interruptions and resumptions of their affair. Both are wealthy, educated, and intelligent. Van goes on to become a world-renowned psychologist, and the book itself takes the form of his memoirs, written when he is in his nineties, punctuated with his own and Ada’s marginal notes.
To make matters worse, the HR lady hadn’t read Ada, so I had the delightful task of explaining the novel to her, all the while becoming increasingly aware of the poor quality of my choice. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.