The Seeker Part Four: Time Traveler
“So tell me, where do you want to be in five years?”
Nathan stared at the interviewer and wondered whether she was a serious. Five years? That’s a measure of time in geology, not corporate life. Nathan thought about presidential elections—if there was no expectation that the leader of the nation have anything more than a four-year plan, why would this company require an applicant to plot out five? Who would expect an honest answer to that question? Especially from a copywriter?
There was no good answer.
He shifted in the uncomfortable conference room chair, a sleek design obviously selected from a catalog, because no one who actually sat in this seat would have green-lit the purchase. That procurement decision seemed analogous to the absurd question he was hesitating to answer: the query probably looked fine when plucked from the company’s sixteen-page spreadsheet of approved interview questions, but it made no sense sitting here in this room. Nathan smiled knowingly as if he was ready with a good answer, but he wasn’t.
There was no good answer.
He’d tried honesty once, telling the hiring manager at a mid-size telecom firm that in five years he wanted to be a celebrated short-fiction author who looked back fondly on his days of writing pithy taglines for tradeshow booths. It was true, but it wasn’t the right answer. He’d seen someone else try honesty, some arrogant jerk interviewing at his current firm who exhibited his ambition by telling the VP of Marketing, “In five years, I want to have your job.” That answer was even more wrong.
The poorly-padded metal frame of the chair was pressing so sharply under Nathan’s shoulder blades that he was tempted to secure an early wrap-up by saying that in five years he hoped to have a lucrative freelance business so he could stay home and sit in furniture that provided adequate ergonomic support. If he was successful, it would also allow him to stop having to humor people who thought inane, open-ended questions would enable them to divine a deeper sense of his ability to write compelling blog posts. The chair urged him to say it, but that wasn’t the answer she was looking for.
What she probably wanted to hear was how well Nathan could toe a corporate line, to see if he was savvy enough to demonstrate his aspirations without seeming threatening. Nathan flipped through mental notes of the dozen articles he’d read about convincing an interviewer he wanted to spend the next five years of his career becoming an increasingly valuable asset to the company. One author advised him to say he was excited to become a subject matter expert in the insert-industry-here industry. Another encouraged him to speak of his desire to be continually innovate the company’s messaging to align to evolving lifestyle trends. A third insisted that whatever he said, he should make sure it was clear that he wasn’t concerned with getting personally credited for any of the department’s success.
Nathan might be able to polish one of those up well enough to sell it—a cynic might say that’s what he did for a living—but he couldn’t bring himself to say any of them. If he told a lie today, he’d have to perpetuate that lie every day, and he didn’t have the stamina for an ongoing ruse. He wanted to spend his days writing copy, not playing the role of the copywriter he’d pretended to be in order to get the job.
He decided that if he was going to fuck up, he would do it with some integrity.
Then he wondered—did she ask that question because it’s absurd? Maybe she knows that the copywriter she hires will be asked a hundred similarly absurd questions on an endless string of tedious conference calls and she wants to see how he’ll handle it. Few things undercut an otherwise compelling creative brief like a string of uncertain ums and wells. Moreover, corporations are steeped in politics, so she would be wise to avoid hiring someone whose mouth is accustomed to the shape of their own foot.
Either way, he worried that the duration of his pause would soon make things awkward, so he decided that if he was going to fuck up, he would do it with some integrity.
“When I look at where I’m at today, it’s nowhere near the spot on the map that I would have predicted five years ago, so clearly my skills as a seer leave something to be desired.” She smiled as he continued. “So to answer your question, I hope to be alive, I hope to be happy, and I hope to enjoy coming to work every day.”
She continued to smile as she scribbled several tiny words in the margin of his resume.
It probably wasn’t the right answer, but Nathan hoped it was close enough.
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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