Temporary Insanity: The Temp Agency Interview

So there you are, all decked out in your best yes-I-am-a-professional-but-no-I'm-really-not-making-enough-money-to-afford dry-cleaning outfit, sitting politely, ankles crossed, hands draped but not clasped lest the seething anger show in the whites of your knuckles, and thinking to yourself, "I have to interview for a temp job?" On your way to this inane interaction you thought about slamming a shot of bad bourbon but thought again. That nice warm feeling of Kentucky's finest might relax you too much. And if you're relaxed you might seem too poised, too confident, too fed up with the charade. You might slip up and inadvertently utter some multisyllabic word with a deep and complex meaning. Your college degree might show. And of course one mere slip would undo the carefully crafted resume you created just so prospective temporary employers wouldn't look at it, assume the casual confidence of a meeting between equals and speak that meaningless compliment which spells starvation: "Frankly, you're overqualified for this job." Overqualified for the job? Of course you're overqualified. It's the 90s. We're all overqualified for our jobs. Isn't this a given by now? If you've worked in one office you can work in any office. What you do in the corporate context doesn't differ from one corporation to the next. The context is the same. The jobs are the same. The corporations are the same. Each place has the same interoffice envelopes and the same Avery labels and the same Canon 8000s and the same ridiculously expensive and underused copy of Microsoft Office and the same nonsensical computer network, the same modular floorplans and the same Otis elevators as every other corporation this side of Jupiter. "So, can you use Excel?" "Are you familiar with MS Mail?" Can't you read my resume? Every piece of software written since the 80's is listed right there under Computer Skills, you fools. You want me to use a computer? I can build you a damn computer! "Where do you see yourself in five years?" Five years? Who the hell cares? This is a five week job! "How well do you work under pressure?" Gee, I don't know. I spent eight months on Wall Street and I still have hair. Ah, but sweet necessity, the mother of all restraint, compels you to look quizzically at your hands, to don the proper expression of diffidence tempered with a slight passivity, and ponder each and every question until you come up with the exact correct response: "Yes." "Sure." "I'm thinking of going back to school." And of course, "Pressure doesn't affect me."A temp interview isn't about your qualifications. It's about your personality. But that's the polite way of phrasing it. It's really about whether or not the boss-man is 5'2" and feels threatened by having to work with a female who towers over him. A temp interview is about the color of your skin and the depth of your cheerful smile. It's about your accent and your hair and your sexual orientation. If it was about your qualifications, your resume or your experience, they'd have already hired you for their five-week assignment.Interviewing for a temp job is about whether or not you can be the marble statue to their corporate Pygmalion. You know that they are just trying to come up with some appropriate or relevant question. Some question which might help them to make a wise and fair and impartial decision. Some question which would allow them to feel that they've chosen the best candidate, that the funding they've allocated will get the golden approval of the budget department. As they search for the one unique question which will allow you to reveal your uniquely qualified self you feel the slightest tinge of pity; there is no question and you have no unique self.It's such a farce. These lies. These little exaggerations and evasions and extrapolations which hurt no one. It's an information economy and it's not what's true that matters but what people believe. And so you make them believe that each and every Admin job on your resume was a new and exciting challenge. That each job utilized a wide array of different skills. That each job wasn't just about answering the phone and scheduling meetings and typing memos and formatting margins and copying and collating and alphabetizing and ordering and remaining cheerful and non-confrontational. You make them believe that you are the one perfectly qualified individual for their astonishingly mundane position. And they believe you. They always do. They thank you afterward and smile and look forward to working with you. And the job goes to someone else. Another temp with an interchangeable list of corporate clients. Another temp who spoke with your inflections and utilized your rhetoric and beamed forth with your smile. Another temp with the same borrowed personality and the same knowledge and the same experience. You didn't lose the assignment any more than the other person got it because they hired a temp, not an individual. The bittersweet victory of presentation over presence, of realism over reality, leaves you with a crooked smile and a desire to buy the corporation's newest "asset" a good, stiff drink because anyone who is more Temp than you probably needs a strong drink, a warm shoulder and the company of a stranger.

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