map The Interview

by Hannah Smart

Published in Issue No. 272 ~ January, 2020

Annabel White sat in one of those semi-comfortable lobby chairs, her leg bobbing up and down. The chair was not uncomfortable—it was certainly soft—but its cushion was bumpy, its innards having been unevenly rearranged by the many bottoms that had sat there before hers.

Annabel was waiting for a job interview. She had her resume out in front of her and was holding it gingerly with two hands, reviewing her qualifications to ensure her mind wouldn’t blank as soon as the interview began. She was going over all the standard interview questions in her head—“What makes you qualified for this job?” “Describe a time when you had to collaborate with others.” “Tell me about a time when you received criticism from a boss and how you responded to that criticism.”—and formulating answers for them.

The chair was an awful burnt orange color, the color of puked-up spaghetti.

Annabel did not wish to appear stilted and overeducated, but the opposite was also not desirable—in fact, it was probably worse. But maybe not. She was interviewing for a mid-tier office job, not a CEO position, so perhaps it would be better to appear dumb and personable than sophisticated and unapproachable. But to be neither was ideal—no, not neither—somewhere in between.

The chair was really starting to ride up now. On the comfortable-to-uncomfortable spectrum, it was much closer to “uncomfortable.”

Suddenly, an office door swung open, and a man with dark, slicked-back hair poked his head out. “Annabel White?”


Annabel White’s alarm jolted her awake at 8:00 am. She would have precisely an hour to get out of bed, eat breakfast, get dressed and made up, and get to the office building (about a fifteen-minute drive from her house) before her job interview began. It wasn’t much time, but she knew she could do it. She rolled out of bed and dragged herself downstairs, where she poured herself a bowl of bran flakes. Still, in a zombie-like daze, she shoveled the cereal down at a moderate-to-fast pace. All the while, potential interview questions echoed quietly in her mind. “What do you believe to be your greatest weakness?”

“I’m a slob,” she muttered aloud, but of course, that answer wouldn’t do. She’d read articles online about how to answer these types of questions. They had to be answered in a way that signified something positive, camouflaged as a weakness. “Sometimes, I’m too much of a perfectionist. I won’t stop doing something until I get it absolutely right.” Yes, that would work. Or, “I’m a bit hard on myself, which tends to mean I push myself a bit too much.” Anything that could be construed as something that would benefit the company. Of course, it had to be disguised well. “I’m too hard-working” would be too transparent.

After brushing her teeth, putting on a nice blouse and skirt, and doing her makeup in a hurry, she rushed out the door with precisely fifteen minutes to spare. She drove five miles per hour over the speed limit—just enough to not get pulled over—and parked out in front of the office building.

As soon as she had stepped inside the lobby, a well-dressed man with slicked-back dark hair poked his head out of an office. “Annabel White?”


The author pondered over two versions for a story. The first one was too normal, he decided—too typical. The second one was too rushed. But wasn’t that the point? The first story’s protagonist seemed to exemplify the perfectionistic qualities the second story’s protagonist wished to portray. The second story’s protagonist, however, did not seem to be a perfectionist at all—a perfectionist would have never found herself in a rush for something as important as a job interview. Both stories ended up in the same place, but in the first, it already seemed plausible to the author that the protagonist would get the job. In the second, it appeared less plausible. And yet neither protagonist had answered a single interview question. So how did the author want her to appear—poised and prepared or already doomed to fail?

The author sighed and opened a blank document.


Annabel White was doomed to fail, no matter what she did. That’s what she thought, anyway. She spent so much of her time mulling over the perfect way to do something that she had no time left for the execution. She couldn’t see why this upcoming job interview, which would begin approximately thirty minutes from now, would be any different.

She had woken up at 7:30 am. Wanting to ensure arrival at the office building with at least half an hour to spare, she had hurriedly eaten breakfast and gotten ready, heading out of her house at 8:15 am. Now she was sitting in a semi-comfortable, burnt orange-colored lobby chair, her leg bobbing up and down, as she reviewed her resume. She had two printed resumes—one for herself, which she was currently reviewing and on which she had annotated in fine print all the possible ways that she could work her qualifications into her answers—and one for her prospective boss, just in case he had lost, misplaced, or accidentally discarded the one she had already given him. She had also printed off a list she’d found on the Internet, entitled “The 100 Most Common Interview Questions,” and memorized 100 different possible carefully thought-out answers. If any of those questions were asked, she’d be good to go (provided she didn’t crack under pressure, that is). The one question she’d put the most thought into was, “What do you believe to be your greatest weakness?” She would talk about her perfectionism, which would be no lie. Still, she’d spin it somehow to make it seem like her perfectionism would be a valuable asset to the office environment in which she would be working if her possibly-soon-to-be boss would be so kind as to give her the job.

As she was beginning to feel uneasy, the semi-comfortable-but-closer-to-uncomfortable office chair riding up in all the wrong places, a man with slicked-back dark hair poked his head out of one of the offices. “Annabel White?”


The author scratched his forehead and shifted in his seat. What about the guy’s hair? Was it necessary that it be slicked back and dark? The author knew that slicking back one’s hair was a sign that one has put a lot of effort into his appearance and therefore cares about appearing professional and probably is professional, but why did his hair have to be dark? Why couldn’t he be blond? The author felt that he was beginning to go insane. Every detail that was present in the story had to be there for a reason. He opened up the second version again.


After brushing her teeth, putting on a nice blouse and skirt, and doing her makeup in a hurry, she rushed out the door with precisely fifteen minutes to spare. She drove five miles per hour over the speed limit, which she had hoped would be just enough to not get pulled over, but she found herself to be gravely mistaken when a flashing police light appeared in her rearview mirror. She groaned and pulled her car to the side of the road. There was nothing she could do. She was going to be late for the interview. She was not going to get the job.


So what then, the author wondered, was the point of all that? He opened up the fourth document.


Annabel White waited in an uncomfortable, lumpy, puke-colored chair in an office lobby for a man to come out and decide, likely in a matter of seconds, whether or not she will be allowed to work for him. It was all so arbitrary. Science says that it takes only two to three seconds of knowing someone to form a first impression, so why was she even doing an interview? Why bother answering the superficial questions he would ask her? After all, he’d only be looking to confirm his preconceived biases. In fact, why didn’t every boss just strut out of his office, take one look at the interviewee, and say whether or not the person is hired? First impressions seldom change, and when they do, they take a lot longer than a thirty-minute interview to do so. She had spent so long agonizing over the precise wording to choose for every possible question they’d ask her when in reality, it was only the first two seconds that mattered. And her potential boss was going to see her, a quivering nervous wreck, and assume she’s unfit for the job. Oh, well. Onto the next one.

A man with slicked-back blond hair poked his head out of one of the offices. “Annabel White?”


Annabel White had nothing to lose. In fact, she had everything to gain. Time and time again, she had applied for the most straightforward and seemingly mundane of jobs, but something had always gone wrong in the interview process, and it was always due to the fact that she just cared too damn much. She overthought everything. She couldn’t just go by her gut feeling—instead, she had to meticulously rehearse every possible answer to every possible question. She was always thinking about what could go wrong and never about what could go right. She realized this, but she couldn’t change. She was a self-sabotager; it was in her very DNA.

She had printed out exactly five resumes. The first one was annotated with all the possible ways to namedrop her qualifications during her answers. The second one was in case her prospective boss had lost, misplaced, or discarded the one she’d already given him. The other three were in case he lost, misplaced, or discarded the new one she was planning to give him, and the one after that, and the one after that. She hoped that four were enough—she didn’t want to have to give away her annotated copy.

Just as she had begun to worry that citing “perfectionism” as her greatest weakness would be seen as only a poorly disguised excuse for her to brag about her superior work ethic, a man with slicked-back brown hair poked his head out of one of the offices. “Annabel White?”


Was he perhaps imparting his own paranoia and perfectionist neuroses onto his poor character? Would the difference in sex between him and Annabel be enough to stop readers from viewing “The Interview” as it was—that is, a thinly veiled self-insert story?

Onto the next version, he decided.


Annabel White had printed out exactly six resumes. She hoped that would be enough…


First impressions were everything, and she was determined not to make a bad one, which was why Annabel White had printed out seven resumes in preparation for her upcoming job interview…


Annabel White sat alone in an empty office lobby at 7:00 am. She had arrived two hours early for her job interview. She had figured that she needed to be there half an hour early. Once she accounted for the possibility of traffic, getting pulled over, getting in a car accident, running out of gas, forgetting something at home, or otherwise landing herself in a situation that would greatly increase her usually-fifteen-minute travel time, she had decided that she needed to be leaving her house at 6:45 am.


Annabel perked up. “That’s me, sir.”

Her prospective boss smiled. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Are you ready for your interview?”

Annabel nodded, and for a split second, she felt like everything might work out all right.


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Hannah Smart is a graduate of Middlebury College, and she writes both fiction and nonfiction. She has several published nonfiction articles in Vocal’s affiliated magazines, one of which was chosen as a staff pick on the Vocal homepage. She is fairly new to the fiction-writing scene. She currently lives in the Boston area.