The Seeker Part Five: Making Contact
As they stared into each other’s eyes, the world slipping out of focus, time dissolving, all Nathan could think was, “this interview is getting weird.”
It had started out well. As the interviewer explained that the job involved creating concise summaries of penny-stock companies that enabled investors to quickly make informed assessments of a firm’s financial viability—every sentence was that wordy—Nathan made sure to maintain eye contact. More than that, he practiced the “full body listening” he’d learned from the TEDx wannabe who spoke at a local job fair—staying squared to the speaker, nodding thoughtfully at the right moments, smiling when the interviewer made something resembling a joke. His whole performance played like a “now here’s how to do it right” video on a career advice site.
This guy’s verbal masonry was seamless.
The problem was that the guy wouldn’t shut up. No gaps in his monologue, no natural pauses that would allow Nathan to look up at the ceiling or down at the table as if he was contemplating his response, and that made the interview feel a bit like a staring contest. He wondered if the unbroken gaze was a conscious decision by the hiring manager to see how Nathan would handle it, a secret element of his interview strategy. Was he offering Nathan the opportunity to look away first, to demonstrate his ability to work with a team by easing an awkward situation? Should he pretend to notice something outside the 6th floor window, or would looking away make him seem distracted? Nathan hated when people let their eyes flit about the room during a conversation, their thoughts obviously in close pursuit, so he knew that wasn’t a legitimate option.
Besides, what if that wasn’t the reason for the perpetual stare? He knew people (men) who treated eye contact like a competitive event, who regarded looking away first as a sign of weakness. What if a quick glance at the table was an unspoken deal breaker? Nathan didn’t dare risk it, so he kept staring, trying to focus on what the guy was saying, but random words began to slip past Nathan as he grew increasingly distracted by tiny shifts in the guy’s expression, and the erratic pattern of his blinking.
The longer it went on, the more absurd “listening” became. Nathan was merely running his brain along the surface of the words like a hand gliding atop a brick wall, barely feeling the bricks as he searched for a gap in the mortar, but this guy’s verbal masonry was seamless. Deep into the explanation of how the firm’s ability to quickly deliver the salient information about a stock was critical to adding value to the client relationship, the guy said Nathan’s job would be to capture the…he paused for a moment before saying “salient information” again. That’s when Nathan realized that the stare-down was tripping up the interviewer, too.
That’s when Nathan realized that the stare-down was tripping up the interviewer, too.
The whole experience slipped toward the surreal as the two of them maintained their visual sumo clutch. Had the office darkened since the interview began? Was Nathan’s car getting a ticket at the now-expired parking meter? He silently hoped some deus ex machina would interrupt them—the receptionist saying he was leaving or an intern asking if she should turn out the lights—but no salvation came through the closed conference room door. They were locked in a hypnotic trance and there was no one to say, “When I count to three, you’ll awaken refreshed.”
As Nathan stared, he began to wonder if the guy might have some mystical power. What if he was turning himself into a writer by posting enticing job descriptions to lure other writers into his office, mesmerizing them with his potent mixture of deep-staring and straight-outta-LinkedIn babble, then stealing their souls and assimilating their talent? The complexity of the crime would require the privacy of an office to pull it off—if the guy maintained this duration of eye contact with a stranger he was chatting up in a bar, he’d quickly get filed under “creep”—and the job interview premise was ingenious.
It was an absurd thought, but it filled Nathan’s head. Had he told anyone he was coming here? Would the soundtrack of the last moments of his life be an endless stream of vapid buzzwords? He couldn’t let it go on any longer—he had to break free of the gaze. He thought about picking up his pen to write down something pertinent, but the guy’s voice had taken on the drone of Charlie Brown’s cartoon teacher. He could chuck the pen at the office wall and startle the guy into looking away, but a sudden random outburst would probably ruin his chances for getting the job. Then he wondered why the hell he was worrying whether the soul-stealing zombie was still going to offer him the job. Just as he reached for his pen, without looking down at it, he heard the interviewer say, “So that’s it. Do you have any questions for me?”
Silence rushed into the room like huge waves of water and Nathan seized the opportunity, snapping his eyes toward the blank notepad in front of him. Without looking up, he said, “No, I feel like you told me everything I need to know.”
He wanted to look up and see if the interviewer was still staring at him, but he didn’t dare. He felt exhausted, like a man who had managed to climb out of the hole that could have been his grave, and he had no intention of walking back to the edge to see how deep the hole had really been.
Now he just had to figure out how to shake the guy’s hand and say goodbye without making eye contact.
By day, William Reagan is a mild-mannered marketing copywriter stealthily sneaking clever wordplay into the most corporate of collateral—but at night, he’s a creative mischeivian bent on taking the shortest possible path to profound truths and/or preposterous lies. (Still mild-mannered then, too.)
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