I forgot to iron your collar this morning, thus most likely giving others the impression that I didn't iron you at all. Although no one really cares too much what I look like, this is causing me mild anxiety.
I think I know why.
My very first real interview was for a job at a grocery store. (I "interviewed" at the farm where I worked when I was 16, but that mostly involved listening to a monologue about why I was going to be hired.) In retrospect, the grocery store interview process was weirdly grueling, especially when you consider that, at the time, job applicants generally showed up at internet start-ups in shorts, demonstrated their ability to turn on a computer, and were hired for corner offices on the spot.
The 100 or so candidates were told to sit in a giant room, where we were called in groups of three for round after round of interviews with progressively higher levels of middle management. After the first couple of rounds, we stopped talking to each other; we had seen so many of our comrades disappear through the exit door that we were reluctant to form even passive relationships. Eventually, there were about twelve of us left, and we were called in individually to meet with the store VP's.
Bill was slim, and wore khaki pants, a blue dress shirt, and (my best estimate) about a half a bottle of hair gel. Jim was a slightly heavier, balder version of Bill.
"We have to say," Bill began. "We don't usually hire high school students to work here. They just aren't very serious."
"But you seem very serious," Jim interjected. "Very well put together."
"See Jane, Jim and I here are what you would call Level Three starch guys," Bill continued.
I nodded, although I had no clue what he was talking about.
"Well," Bill conceded. "I'm a Level Three guy at work, but on weekends, I'll take it down to a Level Two sometimes. Jim here's a guy who will wear a freshly dry cleaned shirt to a golf course." They both chuckled heartily. I smiled, somewhat confused.
As Bill wiped at his eyes and Jim slapped his knee, I considered my outfit. I was wearing a red button-up shirt borrowed from my sister, and khaki pants I had purchased the day before at Old Navy after I impulsively decided it would be fun to work evenings at a grocery store. I guessed that it had been a good choice.
"You can tell a lot about a person by how well they iron their clothes," Jim said. "I like to see a person iron a crease into their pants."
I finally got it. They liked me, at least in part, because of my well-pressed pants. I was glad I hadn't decided to wash them before wearing them to the interview.
"You respect a person more if they're well-dressed and well-pressed, that's what we like to say," Bill said as they both chuckled again.
I laughed politely, and the interview continued. Unfortunately, the damage to my subconscious had already been done.
You see, I'm weirdly susceptible to internalizing information in an interview situation. Maybe it's the combination of the stress and my own paranoia about missing some job-critical policy or procedure, but I absorb almost everything I am told**.
At any rate, perhaps because it was my first real job interview, I think my subconscious somehow absorbed not only what Bill and Jim were saying, but also their bias for well-starched clothing at work. To this day, even though I don't even work in a Level One starch place (whatever the heck that means), I feel guilty coming to work in even slightly wrinkled clothes. It's bizarre.
Anyway shirt, I think together we'll make it through. A coworker on another team strolled in this morning in cargo shorts, so maybe I'll eventually manage to re-program myself.
**I'm serious. I once interviewed at Bath and Bodyworks (shushup, it used to be cool) and I still remember the proper procedure for giving out hand cream samples, even though they didn't even hire me. Had Bill and Jim been leaders at some sort of cult, I'd probably be mixing giant tubs of Koolaid in a compound in East Texas right now. (In fact, I'm beginning to understand why the Scientologists are always passing out job applications.)