Interview day: A short story

Stuck in a left lane of the expressway during rush hour, he misses his exit—but unlike last time, when he forgot his smartphone, Shankar isn’t late now for his job interview, reaching the two-story white building in a quiet cul-de-sac with just a minute or two to spare. Relieved, he turns off the ignition. If it hadn’t been for the GPS, which rerouted the trip without sending him back to the choked highway, he’d have been lost in this unfamiliar city—again.

Entering the building hurriedly, he sees a front office where a gray-haired woman in glasses, sitting at a desk flanked by tall potted plants, is speaking on the phone. There’s a large map of the county on the wall behind her. Walking right up to the desk, Shankar hopes he’s not being rude. Thankfully, she doesn’t seem to mind the interruption and her expression isn’t unfriendly. Putting the phone on hold, she asks if he needs some help.

“I’m here for an interview,” he says, nervously finger-combing his hair.

“Oh, he’s in there,” she says, pointing towards an adjacent room. “You can go in.”

A middle-aged man in a dark blue suit is sitting at a desk, and when Shankar walks into the room, he raises his head from his cellphone. He looks surprised. Apart from a large black office phone and the man’s paper coffee cup, the cherry-colored desk is bare, and Shankar wonders if this apparently unused room will go to the person who gets the job. A framed picture on the wall depicts a sunrise in a riot of red and orange, with a flock of white birds in the foreground. “Every day shows us the way—if we don’t delay,” reads the caption, intriguing Shankar. Is this some corporate koan whose deeper meaning eludes him? He stops fidgeting.

“Hello, you’re also early,” the man says in response to Shankar’s greeting. He is wearing a striped red tie over a cream-colored shirt, and his rimless glasses are perched above a trim salt-and-pepper beard. They shake hands, and the man gestures at the only other chair in the room.

“Sorry, I thought the interview was at 8:30,” Shankar says.

“I had it as 9, but never mind. Actually, I’m glad you came now. I was waiting because I got here early. We can get it done sooner.”

Breathing more easily, Shankar pulls up the chair to sit closer to the desk, when he sees the man take out a book from the bag next to him and put it on the desk.

“Here it is,” he says, smiling broadly. “You can start anytime. I’m ready.”

Shankar is befuddled. Start what? Isn’t he going to ask questions? “Should I…should I talk about myself? My background?”

“What?” The man frowns. “No, that’s not necessary. You can ask questions.” Tapping his fingers on the book, he smiles encouragingly and says again, “I’m ready.”

Shankar gulps. What the heck is this? He looks at the book. Its title, in bold white letters, is SMART Strategies for Success in Sales. Is this man the book’s author? The hardback’s cover, a hazy blue, shows silhouettes of workers walking purposefully near a tall office tower. How come he wasn’t told about this book before the interview? Strange!

Shankar clears his throat and, trying to think of something to say, opens his folder, which has a yellow notepad and a copy of his resume, among other documents. Maybe he should confess that he has no clue about the book and walk out, preventing humiliation. He isn’t looking for a sales position, even if they think knowing about “strategies for success” is important.

“Aha, glad to see that you have a notepad,” the man says. He chuckles. “Frankly, I thought you were going to whip out a digital recorder. Perhaps I can start talking? That will prompt some questions.”

Shankar nods numbly.

“In a nutshell,” the man continues, “you have to be SMART—in caps—to be effective, to make a difference. S stands for simplicity, M for measurability, A for approachability, R for reliability and T for tenacity. You need all these attributes to be successful.”

Shankar is astonished. He feels like laughing. Although he doesn’t, that urge makes him relax a little. Exhaling, he wants to say, ‘GO stands for Get Out, which is what I want to do.’ But he just nods silently.

“For good human interaction, we need low tech, not high tech,” the sales guru says. “I talk about it in my book. Modern technology provides benefits, but it can also be a barrier. By opting for a notepad instead of a recorder, you’re hitting all the letters in SMART.”

Nodding sagely, Shankar picks up his pen, although he doesn’t know what to write—or ask. The sales expert seems unconcerned, but before he can speak again, they’re interrupted by the woman Shankar saw earlier. Standing in the doorway, she has a bewildered expression on her face, as if she’s trying to figure out what she inadvertently swallowed.

“Are you from The Metro Business Chronicle?” she asks Shankar. Her cheeks are red.

“The Metro Business Chronicle?” It’s Shankar’s turn to be puzzled. “No, I’m here for a job interview.”

“Job interview?” the sales maven says, looking shocked. “I thought you were here to interview me!”

“What?”

“There’s a woman here from The Metro Business Chronicle,” the woman says. “She’s here to do an interview.” Looking accusingly at Shankar, she adds, “I thought you were her.”

Sounds a little illogical, Shankar thinks. But that’s irrelevant—he gets the point. “There’s been a mistake,” he says, standing up. “I’m sorry. Isn’t this suite 200?”

The sales baron stares at him without speaking, open-mouthed.

“No,” the woman says. “That’s upstairs. This is suite 100.”

Oh, no, how embarrassing! Although there were two business names on the sign outside, Shankar had rushed in without bothering to make sure he was entering the correct suite. The short curving staircase outside, he realizes, takes people to the top floor, the right floor. Should he even go up there now? What would he say?

Apologizing again, Shankar quickly gathers his stuff and walks out of the room, as the front office lady steps aside to let him pass—and the SMART sales author, picking up his book, glares at him speechlessly. The young woman waiting outside looks at Shankar curiously. Exiting the building, he can’t help noticing that, along with the light green bag slung over her left shoulder, she’s holding a black digital recorder in her right hand.

Standing in the parking lot, Shankar takes a deep breath. Before he can unlock his phone to check the time, it rings. He answers quickly.

“Mr. Tardy? Am I speaking to Shankar Tardy?”

Ouch! The mispronunciation sounds like a real word.

“Yes, this is Shankar Thadi,” he says. “Who is calling?”

A woman from another firm is responding to his job application. His resume is promising, she says, and they’d like to meet him for an interview the following day. Can he come at 9 a.m.?

Can he? Of course he can! Pleased, Shankar is tempted to say he won’t be tardy.

Instead, he says, “Thank you so much for your call…I’ll be there by 9.”

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