Suit and tie ready, neatly pressed. Not a shred of loose fluff on the new outfit. That was how Michel, or Mike as he was nicknamed, was. Today was his big day, his big moment. As he shone his black Italian designer formal shoes he had bought at the weekend sale, he felt like a millionaire, a man on a mission to the big league. He was neatly shaved. He sprayed a whiff of his favourite Italian cologne (Mike was an Italian Immigrant, hence his fascination for Italian accessories). Although he was short, 5’6”, there was a handsomeness about him; a ‘movie star’ about to hit it in the big time.
Golden Enterprises was his target. It was a blue chip multinational conglomerate in the manufacturing, financial, and entertainment industries. Mike had followed its progress in the financial newspapers since his first year at college. It wasn’t just the lure of big money that he was attracted to, but the opportunity to work with his long time admired mentor, Sean Parker. Sean had risen from the ranks as an admin clerk to eventually buy into a 51% stake by the time he was 55. Mike always felt as similar to Sean: ambitious, confident, looking to always raise the stakes.
Mike looked at his Swartz watch – Time to go. He may have looked suave, but some aspects of his reality were still intact, going by the mismatch of his outdated watch with the expensive suit. I have to be on time. Mike was a sucker for punctuality. He reversed out his old Beetle, his favourite car. He didn’t really wanted to get rid of it, but success in the big league could change that soon. As he drove, he imagined entering a large office which smelled of the leather. The wide window would look out onto the Metropolis. I just hope it goes well, don’t want to cock up this opportunity!
He arrived on time. He relaxed for a little. As he entered the high rise building of Golden Enterprises, he noticed the polished marble walls and floors. The lobby area was large, and he was guided by the security at reception towards the lifts. “Mr. Parker is on the 51st floor; his secretary will meet you there” a smartly dressed security official said. Wow, 51 floors up! Mike’s vision of his own imaginary huge office dominated his thoughts during the lift ride.
The doors opened and he noticed how everything was in white. The floors and the whole reception area were just pristine white! He knew Sean was a hard taskmaster based on all the magazine interviews and articles he read about him. Mike knew what he was getting into, but this was his opportunity. A short lady dressed in a long beige dress with brunette hair greeted him with a Colgate smile. “You must be Michel?” “Yes mam, I am”. That sounded odd, greeting this young beauty with the address of Mam. The secretary led him to a large double pine wooden door. Pushing the door open, Michael took in the place he envisioned during his drive. A glass desk stood in the center. Huge windows surrounded the room, the rays of the morning sunshine beamed through.
“Mr. Parker will be with you shortly, please have a seat here” as she pointed to a comfortable black leather reclining seat. Mike sat comfortably, the softness of the leather against his back. A door opened and Sean entered from a side door. He seemed taller than Mike had imagined from magazine photos. Sean was dressed in a neat, slim fit Armani suit. He walked with a confidence that all successful CEOs exhibit when they know they are in a league of their own. Strands of grey hair were noticeable on the sides. The look appealed to Mike.
“Michel” Sean greeted in his baritone voice. Mike jumped up, raising his hand out for a handshake. “Yes, please call me Mike” he replied with a sense of nervousness. Stay calm dude, this is your moment was his immediate thought. Sean’s grip was strong, confident.
“Have a seat Michel”. No bother trying to correct him again. There was a look of focus and seriousness in Sean’s eyes. “So, you think you know a lot about Golden Enterprises?” Oh Boy! Mike thought this was going to be one of those testing interviews. Not the kind of start he imagined many nights before when he practiced his mock interview strategy. “Ummm, actually I have loved following the company and its successes over the years. I have been impressed with how you have managed to take it to another level, and I love the way you have risen up the ranks as the times have changed”. Mike tried forcing a grin. Sean didn’t seem impressed. There was a blank stare from him…this was uncomfortable.
“What is it you liked about the way I rose up”, Sean shot back. “Well, I admire how tenacious you were, how you managed to hit back at your critics, the tenacity you showed even in the deepest moments of uncertainty.” Mike’s confidence returned, albeit briefly. Sean turned in his King size chair, briefly looking out into the large window space behind. “Those bastards always wanted to get me. They thought I was a cocky arrogant fuck who didn’t know what it takes to rise. They underestimated me all the time. But you know what I had; do you really want to know what my secret to success was? I had balls, not just a bunch of small balls for whiney little shits, but big balls to take on all the fat fuckers out there who thought they knew it all.”
Mike sat back a bit. The heat of the moment had risen too much for comfort. He knew Sean had a reputation for a mouth that could go off, but didn’t really anticipate the interview starting off like this. “That’s why I have admired you sir, because you had the…” Mike hesitated before he was about to let out the B word that Sean so expressively used before… “Before you had the will to go on!” he completed.
Sean was silent. Was Mike beginning to win a bit of his attention? It was never going to be certain. Mike heard rumors of previous interviews where Sean was able to make grown men older than Mike cry. Mike was calm though, at least for that moment.
Sean flipped some papers, reading through at a frantic pace. He was looking at Mike’s resume. “Mark”, Sean mistakenly called out. “It’s Mike, Sir”. No apology. “Yes, so I want to know if you have the kind of balls I am talking about.” Shit Mike thought. He was thrown off by that statement. How could he keep pace with this, being able to answer comfortably, exuding the type of the confidence he would hope Sean would notice? After all, this was a man he admired, someone he wanted to impress. He didn’t want to be another one of Sean’s victims, ceremoniously dumped out of a hard to come by interview at Golden Enterprises.
There was a brief pause. Mike gathered his thoughts. Sean looked straight at him. Awkward! “Well sir, I like to take initiative. If I need to deliver at all costs, I will do so!” The response seemed standard, not one that made Sean sit up immediately to take notice. A slight laugh…maybe Mike was getting somewhere. “Deliver at all costs?” Sean looked at him quizzically. He leaned over with his arms folded and asked “What the hell does that mean?” DAMN. Mike felt his space being taken up…you idiot, that was definitely a shit response he thought. “Sir, if it means the success of Golden Enterprises hinges on my actions I will do WHATEVER it takes!” Oh God. Did Mike give the proverbial promise, letting his soul being sold in the pursuit of corporate glory?
Sean leaned back again. “You know, this company is like my baby. Someone fucks it up, and I get mad!” Mike’s focus heightened. “I don’t need these techy, Ivy League fuckers coming in running the show.” Gees, was he thinking of Mike as one of those fuckers right now? Luckily, or so Mike thought, he was not afforded the luxury to be educated in the Ivy League system. Mike wanted to respond, but for the first time he was hesitant. Sean continued on, “You see, no one seems to have the street smartness or the ability to think for themselves these days. They all come out thinking they know it all, that the bloody Ivy name behind their names will help take them in leaps and bounds into places. Those shits don’t know what’s really out here in the real world.”
Such was corporate life. Mike always knew it. He laughed sometimes in school when he saw how all his peers imagined wildly how much of a roaring success they would become, little knowing how tough it really was. Here it was, being confirmed in the flesh, in front of a powerful and admired man Mike passionately followed, but at that moment was getting a whipping.
“Yes sir, I do know how tough the industry can be, never for a minute do I feel it can be easy. Despite that, I want to succeed, and I have a will that will help me to learn and move fast”. Sean seemed to have a slight grin. “I sense you are a little different from the lot. I’ve had many like you come in here, all shiny shoes and stuff, trying to make an impression”, he said. “You definitely seem to have something”. What’s this now? He was getting appreciation? “Thank you” is all Mike mustered as a response.
“I am not sure though you are quite a fit for Golden Enterprises”. Mike’s heart almost stopped. “Hmmm…nah I am not really sure…but let’s see can’t really say if I can make a decision.” Mike was stunned. Did his chance of getting to work with his future mentor vanish just like that? Sean got up and proceeded around the table towards Mike. Mike was lost. He felt like he was staring down a long dark tunnel. He seemed to have lost his sense of purpose. He got up, this time providing a firmer handshake. The appeal of Sean Parker diminished.
“My secretary will guide you out”. The double pine door entrance opened with the sight of the short secretary Mike was welcomed by. Not even her beauty gave Mike a sense of hope. As he entered the lift, he went into a slump. How the hell did I blow that? That thought just seemed to ring with every beep as the floor indicator counted downwards. Did Mike just expect too much from the beginning? Surely he couldn’t be like those so called other little shits that Sean had such distaste for.
Minutes passed like hours. He didn’t know whether he wanted to cry, have a drink or just go shout out like a mad man in an open area. The confident Mike just seemed to have disappeared. As he walked towards his Beetle, his mobile rang. What now? Mike’s annoyance was not hard to miss.
A soft, familiar voice was on the other line. “Michel, please can you come back up, Mr. Parker has called for you”. Mike stopped short in his tracks? He wondered. A chance of redemption the least of his expectations. 10 minutes later and he was back at the double pine door entrance to the offices of the same man whom moments before he thought was a real prick. As he entered, he saw the tall figure of Sean Parker standing behind his desk. Sean stared for what seemed like an eternity. “Let’s talk” he said as he motioned to Mike to come over.
Mike underestimated the real Sean Parker. Sean loved to play the odd game during his interview process. It was his way of testing how interviewees reacted in such tense and awkward situations. Experience taught him that he could see the real personality of a person through such situations. At the same time, Sean followed his instinct. It was telling him Mike was different. Sometimes our instincts are so strong that we naturally incline towards them.
In contrast, Mike thought he was lucky. He wasn’t lucky; he showed a sense of composure that was rare among previous peers that interviewed with Sean. Mike had been through such situations before. What always made him stand out was his ability to come back, even from the hardest knocks. This moment was the least he expected to return from. But such is life, that sometimes our tenacity takes us over and helps we to achieve what we least expected.
A few years later, as Mike became successful in his Golden Enterprises career, he reflected on the interview and the key moments that helped him get in. He learnt that tenacity and instinct can go hand in hand, sometimes bringing out an unseen potential that people least expected of themselves.
It’s a rainy and gloomy day, but the insight and reflection made Mike smile …His front office door opened; it was time to run his interview, time to bring in a new mentee. This was his chance to play the role of Sean Parker, but this time on his own terms.
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Disclaimer: The opinions in this piece are solely those of the author and in no way reflect any person, institution or theory, nor is the author associated with any specific publication or institution. This article is purely for business and informative purposes.