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Savvy on Career: Episode 1

September 16, 2013 by SavvyInTheCity


Last month, I re-entered the workforce after 12 weeks of maternity leave. This milestone is bittersweet, as I miss my little one and feel guilty leaving her at daycare, but at the same time, I know I enjoy my company, job, coworkers, etc. In fact, I may be in the minority of people who love their job. Every day is different. I am proud of our company. We have a hard working, innovative employee culture. Big fan.

But there was a time, not terribly long ago, when I had been laid off and was looking for a job that I could love. It was 2009 when lots of other people were being laid off, too. I have a pretty good story about that time in my life, which I realized I never shared with you all. So here we are; Savvy on Career: Episode 1.

That's right. It's STORY TIME, friends.

Some friends of ours own a franchise location of a local fast casual restaurant (the kind where you order at the counter then someone brings you your food think like Chipotle or Doc Green's). The corporate office for this restaurant chain had a job opening for a Marketing Manager. Our friends helped me get a food in the door, and because my experience was fitting enough, I found myself having a phone interview with the hiring manager.

The conversation was brief, but good enough. Opportunity to travel some, move up, get to know franchisees and help them with marketing… sounded good to me. At the end of the call, the hiring manager (let's call him Bob) said, "Okay, before we go any further in the process, I want you to do a little homework and send it to me."

"What kind of homework is that?" I asked.

I didn't anticipate the breadth of his answer  which red flag number 1 (or 1, 2 and 3 depending on how you look at it). "Make a packaging label for a line of our products that will soon be available in Costco. Do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis for our brand. Oh, and create a social media strategy we could roll out with our franchisees. After you send me that stuff, I'll decide if we want to bring you in."

Ummm. okay. I can do that over lunch. Ummm. Not. Considering I was somewhat desperate and feeling guilty about not contributing to our mortgage, groceries, etc. I decided to go for it. But I did at least call back a few days later to say that if I was going to invest my time in these ideas, it seemed only fair that Bob would listen to be present them in person.

He obliged (blessing or curse?) and I went in a week later to meet Bob and present my ideas. My friends were telling me that it wasn't fair that he expected me to be a social media guru, market analyst, graphic designer and employee communications maven all in one. I saw the opportunity to try lots of new things.

I arrived at headquarters. After Bob showed me to his office, I waited in there for 20 minutes while he did god knows what (red flag 2). He eventually came back and asked for me to show my packaging design sample. That was relatively uneventful; he noted that I followed the brand standards in terms of logo, colors, etc. We moved on to the SWOT analysis.

Naturally, I started with the Strengths. I talked about the booming business happening in the fast casual segment, the low turnover among franchisees, etc. I stopped after going through my list to ask: "Having reviewed my ideas, what strengths might I have left off my slide?"

I didn't see this coming. Bob looks side to side, thinks for a minute, then points two thumbs at himself and says, "Well… me."

Having just seen red flag 3, I wasn't sure he was joking or serious or crazy or what. I just stared at him and no one said anything, until I said, "Okay, on to the weaknesses." I talked about how the restaurant's regional name may not resonate in other parts of the country. I spent a few moments on key competitors with better name recognition, and how the franchisees who refused to remodel their stores were bringing down the brand. Not much fanfare on this stop in our journey.

On to the Opportunities. I touched on expanding the company's bakery line in big box stores (Costco, Sams, etc.). We talked about the evolving brand. Like with Strengths and Weaknesses, I stopped and asked the hiring manager if he had any questions, feedback or other Opportunities he wanted to share. He pauses, shrugs, reaches under the desk, grabs a stuffed animal pickle and strokes the top of it. He says, "yeah, uh, this pickle could be our mascot."

Throw the red flags everywere. Is this a joke? Was he joking with me? Flirting with me, some combination of the above? I think it was around then that I blacked out. I barely remember going over the Threats, then sharing with him social media ideas — then the dude ushering me back to the main conference room to give my same presentation to the owners of the company. Wait, how did that happen?

Thank goodness somebody mentioned more than 50% travel. That was an easy out, as I was not on board with being away from husband/friends/family quite that often. I politely (or eagerly?) declined talking any further about the opportunity.

About four years later (while at a new job — thankfully not that job), I was telling a client of mine this story. We compared notes and it turns out her sister worked for this guy (in other words, I interviewed for the position her sister vacated). She said her sister and her were pretty sure "Bob" wore the same pants every day for a few months sometime in 2009 and slept in his car following a nasty divorce. Or did I just hit him on a bad day?

The all-too-obvious moral of the story is that sometimes no job is better than a job working for crazy. And if you have to jump through too many hoops in the interview process, there may be a red flag (or seven) in waiting…

What's your worst job interview story? And how do you feel about that amount of pre-work for an interview?

Speaking of work, remember those days not too long ago when I used to take pictures of my outfit? Ha. Those days feel like a distant memory. Long gone are the ten minutes of spare time, fancy camera tripods and white balance and shutter speed adjustments. This is my new reality (iPhone selfie with hair I washed two days ago and slept on). I haven't ironed anything in five-plus months…



  1. Greg says:

    Probably my best worst interview was for what was SUPPOSED to be an IT position working for a large car dealership group.  It was pretty early in my career (fresh out of college!) so I didn't even notice the now obvious red flags.  When I got to the interview, it began apparent very quickly that they were interviewing me to sell used cars!  I aced the interview (naturally) and then got 'invited" to pay $150 to do the followup "training class" that would guarantee me a job.  Needless to say, I politely told them to pound sand and left.  Turns out, that organization was in the news about a month or so later as running a scam as a "placement" agency.  Fun times!

  2. Mego says:

    Bad interview stories are like bad date stories. They never get old !

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