The Hiring Interview

“Where do you see yourself five years from now?” used to be a standard question in a hiring interview. “Trying to hang on,” was not an acceptable answer, back in the day. It would not be an acceptable answer today, but it would be honest.

Whether honesty in a job interview is advisable is not our subject today. That’s a question for philosophy. This is a humor column. Or haven’t you noticed?

I don’t like to brag, but I’m still alive, after applying for jobs for 50 years, 33 of them — and this may be even worse — telling my bosses why I think we should hire this guy or that gal, or none of them.

The worst cover letter ever — the worst I remember, anyway; there were so many of them — I got as a city editor in Texas. Some guy up North wrote that he wanted to “go to the border, get laid, and write for a newspaper.”

I called him up. I told him our managing editor was a woman. I asked why he would write such a thing in a job application.

He — and I am not making this up — didn’t understand the question.

We’re both guys, right? Don’t I get it?

It was not at that moment, precisely, that I learned our country was going to hell in a handbasket. But it was evidence.

Skip ahead a few years. I was a city editor in another state on the border. We were looking for a reporter. Some guy — why are these people always guys? — sent me a cover letter, typewritten, full of scratched-out words, with handwritten corrections in pen and pencil.

I showed the letter to our chief photographer, a talented woman who worked hard for every dime she ever earned. As she read the letter, I called the guy.

He seemed happy to hear from me. But not for long.

I told him he could not send a letter like that and expect to get a job. The very least he should do was rewrite it and type it out perfectly, to impress his prospective boss.

The guy argued with me.

He asked me who I thought I was.

“I’m the guy you’re asking for a job,” I said.

He hollered at me some more. When he stopped, I said, “OK, thanks, man,” and hung up. I looked at Cyndy the photographer.

“You were trying to do him a favor,” she said.

“I was,” I said.

She shook her head, I shook mine, and we went back to work.

Now, here’s the thing.

In the People’s Republic of China, the son of a Party official might get away with this.

Vladimir Putin’s grand-nephew, twice removed, could get away with it.

Donald Trump and his family, obviously, can do whatever they want.

But I was raised to believe that you can’t get away with it in the United States.

However, it seems to be the case today that many of my fellow citizens — mostly white people — think they can get away with it: that they can get a job if they whine loudly enough about people with darker skins. And if they couldn’t get a job last year, surely they can get one now, under a president who does … I’m not sure what. Something stern, and mean, but not to white people.

Well, it worked for a while, didn’t it? It got us white people this far.

It surely did. And it’s still taking us toward … something.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not casting aspersions upon an entire generation, or two generations, or ten, or my country, or the white race, or the people we elect to be president, or the people who vote for them.

I’m just reporting.

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