The Only Professional Advice I Have Worth Giving

adviceIn the course of my daily work, I sometimes find occasion to visit coffee shops, where I am often witness to introductory job interviews. I could not put my finger on what exactly about these interviews bothered me — other than the inherent degradation — until this morning, when I heard yet another interviewee respond to the question “Can I get you anything?” with “I’m fine, thanks.” This is then followed by no more than twenty minutes of perfunctory question-asking, at which point the battle is already lost.

Over the course of your young life, you will find yourself in many situations where someone older than yourself, almost certainly wearing a blue-and-white-checked buttoned shirt with excessively stiff cuffs, will offer you something to eat or drink. This may happen in the course of an informational interview, in a meeting with a prospective mentor or volunteer coordinator, or a late-stage job interview, but no matter what the circumstances are, it is imperative that you resist the urge to say “No thanks, I’m fine.”

It is an admirable impulse on your part, I am sure; an attempt to demonstrate your innate stoicism and willingness to Go Without for the Sake of the Company, but you are cutting yourself off at the knees. Nothing in life is certain, and you have almost no chance of getting this job. They are meeting you in a Starbucks. They are not serious about you. The job listing was posted merely as a horrible joke; they have known the exact name of the man (it is a man) they planned to hire for months, and he has known too. Order a goddamn bagel and a large coffee. Soak them for all they’re fucking worth. You know how many opportunities there are for free food in a young professional’s life? Not nearly fucking enough, that’s how many, and the opportunities get fewer and fewer the closer you get to 40 and are expected to be consistently feeding yourself.

Free food is a good thing, perhaps the best thing, and when you get the chance, you have to grab it with both hands and put some of it in your purse for later. I can’t tell if you’re going to get that mentor, or a decent lead, or whatever it is you’re looking for when you put on your nicest black slacks and talk to someone who clearly hasn’t read your resume for half an hour, but I can tell you this: if they offer to buy you a drink and you say yes, you have gotten a free drink. That is something that has happened to you in the course of your day. The day has not been in vain: you have supped and drank on this shitty company’s miserable dime, and no one can fault you for it. You are being offered free food and drink. This is not a trick, nor a trap designed to expose you as a freeloader. It is a gift. Take it. Take the bagel and run.

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