1 May 2011

three pairs of shoes?

The other day I was describing what I do at work to somebody skeptical that I might genuinely enjoy my job.

I'm not going to write about that for now. Instead, I'm going to share a little vignette about one little part of how I found myself in this situation.

I interviewed for a job, and, out of character for me, I got it. That's more than a little paraphrased, though.

In preparing for interviews, one question I'd been coached to answer was (the always dreaded) "What is your biggest flaw?"

Though I can never recall actually being asked it and answering it, I had not one but several potential answers lined up, ostensibly to show what would at first sound to be a flaw, but with a little explanation I could turn into some great advantage that would make a me a top candidate. Such as:

"When I'm working on something I need to be careful to focus on the big picture, since I easily get caught up in the smallest details..."*

This is something I've recognized in myself over the years - not only do I tend to sweat the small stuff at times, but I often take great pains (and find great satisfaction) perfecting things that don't matter in the end.

Let me illustrate: When my employers contacted me to schedule an interview, all of the possible times were, of course, during the working day. I was at the time working as a temp IT guy in the basement of a large company, but working nonetheless. It wasn't glamorous, but it was a paycheck, and I didn't want to tip my hand that I had my sights on better prospects. The dress code wasn't overly formal, and I knew that my khakis and polo shirt were not appropriate attire for an interview. Since I'd be leaving work and taking a long lunch to meet with the prospective managers, I'd need to find somewhere in between to switch outfits to one more suitable.

So, I'd need to wear one of my suits. I picked the blackest one (both of my suits appear black, one not having looked even the slightest bit blue since I bought it) and hid it under some stuff in the back seat of my car. Also back there I threw a couple pairs of shoes, and the leather folio I use both as a cheat sheet for remembering my research on the employer as well as to give the appearance of taking good notes during the interview.

None of that its really out of the ordinary except for the extra shoes. You see, despite working in the fashion industry for half a decade, I've never really quite gotten the hang of accessories (by which I mean belts, socks, shoes, etc). I've long had a personal sensibility that black shoes do not go well with tan pants, so I began the day wearing brown shoes. My plan to re-attire myself along the way to the interview involved me changing into my suit in a Panera bathroom midway between work and downtown.

I didn't particularly want to to change completely into my suit in the bathroom, however. Though I'd get a certain degree of enjoyment out of possibly befuddling the observant spectator seeing me go into the bathroom casually attired and emerging looking prepared for a black tie affair, I decided to only change my pants and shirt in the restaurant rest room. So I strolled into Panera, headed straight for the bathroom, changed my shirt and pants, put the casual ones into my backpack (carefully rolled, as I'd be putting them back on soon thereafter), and swapped my shoes before heading to the counter to grab a snack for the rest of the trip.

That's where the additional pair of shoes enters into the picture. Self-conscious and focusing on things that nobody would notice, I didn't want to wear my black dress shoes with what I thought would be a less than formal outfit, since I was planning to add my tie and suit coat at the last possible moment. Naturally I'd need to wear a less than formal pair of black shoes out of the bathroom, brown shoes not matching black pants. As crazy as this line of thinking may sound, I can only wonder what the other people in the bathroom while I was doing this would think of what I was doing in there. So, for about five or ten minutes I wore a pair of black sneakers, and nobody was the wiser, nearest I could tell.

And that's it, really. I planned my subterfuge down to the smallest detail, and in the end it was one other bit of preparation that actually mattered, one I'd done nearly as an afterthought. I'd grabbed a roll of quarters, thinking I might possibly encounter metered parking, and that turned out to be the case. I rolled up to a meter somewhere near the building, finished changing my clothes (swapping my windbreaker for a suit coat, tie, and overcoat), fed the meter the maximum coins it would take, and made it up to the interview with a few minutes to spare.

My notes served me well; I was dressed for the part, and established a quick rapport with the interviewers. Having eaten a bagel, I didn't even need to worry about a rumbling stomach. The interview took almost the entire time I'd banked at the meter, but felt like it went quickly and easily. I returned to work and finished out the day, giving no indication anything had been out of the ordinary.

I was happy the interview seemed to have gone well, and I had that certain satisfaction of switching my clothes completely (and my shoes twice) without anybody really noticing. Having let this draft languish for over three years, though, I can't help but wonder, at the time, which part pleased me more.


*There follows quite a tale when I would answer with this one, though my father tells it better than I do. Back when I was in seventh or eighth grade, I was assigned to turn a 3"x5" photograph into a 2'x3' pencil drawing. The photo I was enlarging was of a brick building behind a concrete fountain (here it is from above) and I went about it with the wrong approach entirely. Before even sketching out the barest outlines of the large building that wasn't just filling the background, but more or less looming over this impressive fountain, I was drawing the individual rocks in the fountain (the water had been turned off when the photo was taken). Now, I wasn't drawing the actual rocks, just something that would approximate them. I couldn't make out that sort of detail even if I had wanted to do so.

Checking in on me, my dad noticed what I was doing, and told me, in wiser words than I can remember well, that I needed to work on the big stuff first before worrying about the pebbles. Subsequently he would refer to this lesson by admonishing me, "You're drawing the rocks again," (or something sager; my memory's not that great). So I figured it would be a great answer for that ridiculously cliched question.

And speaking of focusing on the little details, I wouldn't even have remembered about the titular footwear for this post had I not mentioned their number specifically in the draft I created back in January of 2008. At the time (probably the day of, or just thereafter, the interview in question) I'd also noted "Overall I think it went well." which, as it turns out, it basically had.

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