The One with the Birkenstocks

A job interview is like a first date — you know within the first five minutes if there will be a second date. A few years ago when I had an entry-level position available in my department, I felt like I’d been on an endless speed-dating circuit of potential job candidates. In the case of one particular interviewee, the moment the young woman walked into our conference room, I knew there would be no second “date.” She was probably twenty-two or twenty-three, fresh out of college. She flung her giant purse on floor and plopped into the seat across from me with a resigned sigh.

Honestly, I sensed something was off a few days earlier when I left a voice mail to set an appointment for the interview. The outgoing message left me a little, well, concerned. It was along these lines, but worse. Two words: hip-hop.

I tried not to let the message color my opinion of her. This was back in the day when people had answering machines. Perhaps she had mischievous roommates. Perhaps she was auditioning to be a member of a Sugar Hill Gang tribute band. Perhaps she thought the message was a memorable way to set her apart from the other job candidates. Well, score one for her.

This was a particularly hot and humid summer afternoon in New York City. The air was thick and the sun was unrelenting. It was the kind of day you’d want to spend at Coney Island or ensconced in your apartment with your window air conditioner set to “North Pole.” Waiting on a sticky subway platform with fetid, stale air and walking blocks along steaming sidewalks to an interview while praying that your handshake won’t be sweaty is the last thing you’d want to do.

So, give her another point for showing up.

I’d located her in the lobby based on the fact that she was the only person waiting there, not because her demeanor screamed Interviewee.Β  I should pause here to note that my company is not conservative with regard to our dress code (or our conduct, but that’s another post). This isn’t the Financial District. State dignitaries don’t routinely walk our hallways. I have never seen the president of our division in a tie. The employee handbook simply asks staff to use their best judgment, and one would guess/hope that an interviewee would err on the side of formality.

Maybe she was confused. She thought that today was the day she was interviewing for the lifeguard position at the Red Hook pool or the day she would be taking over for her friend at the Summer of Love cart in Union Square.Β  Because she showed up wearing a tank top (yellow), tie-dye broomstick skirt and Birkenstock sandals.

I have nothing against Birkenstocks. Or tie-dye. I have tied and dyed with the best of them. But I had to question her ability to handle the workload of this position when she obviously had issues grasping the gravitas of a basic corporate job interview.Β  That, and her feet were caked with dirt.

Maybe these were her "formal" Birkenstocks.

Maybe these were her “formal” Birkenstocks.

Before you get concerned that I wrote off this young woman based solely on her appearance, worry not. Talking to her was a bit like her answering machine message: lots of babbling but nothing interactive.

Alas, there was no second date for the Birkenstock girl. Or the guy who listed “anal retentive” under the Special Skills section of his resume. Eventually I found the perfect fit for the position. He had sweaty palms, but he wore a white button-down shirt.

What was your most memorable interview experience?

Have a great weekend, everyone!



  1. Some people are utterly clueless. Earthy is one thing, but filthy is another. Did someone else decide that she was worthy of an interview or did you initially like her resume and presumably, cover letter? If the cover letter reeks of incompetence, I say, “Next!”

    Back in the day, I had an answering machine where the outgoing message was me saying in a natural tone of voice, “Hello!” Then, I’d pause and then, as the caller would start speaking, they’d hear the beep. I thought that was hilarious. My boss at the time needed to call me at home about something. She read me the riot act about my message. So I changed it to something professional sounding but I also changed the beep to a horrific car crash.

    Ten years ago, I had a memorable interview with my current boss. We talked minimally about the opening. Somehow, we got onto the topic of politics. 2004 was an election year. Although we were completely on the same page politically, and talking to her was like talking to a friend over a beer, it was the most inappropriate and unprofessional interview of my life. But it didn’t matter. I nailed this illustrious gig where I spend much of my day labeling floor tile.


    1. It’s so nice when people click in an interview. I’ve had moments like that and I know that the person is going to be a good fit for our office. The truth is, it’s not about Birkenstocks or crazy answering machine messages, but if I can stand to be around the person 8-9 hours per day!


      1. You’re so right about that! Godsend over here at The Grind is almost 30 years younger than me, but we’ve worked together almost four years now we get on great (or so I like to think; she might feel completely tortured).


      2. Amen to that! Let’s face, we’re going to have to live with person for 40+ hours a week. In most cases people can be taught the tasks, but you can’t teach personality.


      3. Right on! When I’m hiring for an entry level position, I know that I’m going to train the person in nearly every aspect of the job. So in the interview, I want to know: are they going to be pleasant and personable? Or will I spend most of the day dealing with an angry, unpleasant drip?


  2. Hmmmmmmmm. I have agree with V. Shoes are one thing, filth another. Wish I had some really memorable interview story to tell, but, alas, I don’t. I know Sara has some however. Sara just has some incredible stories to tell about folks who have worked for her. But you have to come visit to hear them.

    In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend, Jackie!

    Hugs from Ecuador,


  3. Now you know having Costanza as your featured pictured would lure me here πŸ™‚ Dude I’d have to admit that I love that Costanza outgoing message. It cracks me up and I don’t mind the Sugar Hill Gang but in truth if I new someone was going to call me for a serious job interview I might change it to the Suit-and-Tie kind of message. But if it was for Ellen or Google or something I’d stick with the Greatest American Hero Theme Song … but I’d leave my Birkenstock and 60s Berkeley attire at home, although I did go to CAL and this apparel was alive and kicking when I was on campus in the 90s πŸ™‚ Good post thanks for the laugh.


    1. I knew you’d love that Seinfeld clip! George’s outgoing message is a classic. And I love Jerry’s reaction when he gets George’s machine, rolling his eyes. Does anyone even have answering machines anymore?


  4. This was funny! Ah, Birkenstocks.

    It’s been so long since I interviewed for a job. We’ve had some crazy experiences interviewing babysitters though. Can’t think of anything particular off the top of my head. So many kids. So many babysitters.


    1. When I was about 12-13 I did some babysitting for kids in my neighborhood. I think at one interview I was wearing my Walkman headphones. Now that I’m older and (supposedly) wiser I would have never hired me. πŸ™‚


  5. So funny! How did I ever miss that episode of Seinfeld?
    The Birkenstocks are doubly surprising in that they seem to not match the hip-hop style message. I was expecting you to say she showed up in booty shorts with the word Juicy on the back. =)


  6. I never did get the hang of walking in Birkenstocks without tripping too much so I know I’d never wear mine to a job interview… but they don’t bother me so much (too much time in California?) but your description of the dirty feet was what got ME. Ick. As for my most memorable interview, it would be my first with corporate America for a technical writing position, wearing a suit (never had before) and heels (rarely since). I felt as uncomfortable with the outfit as I did with the subject material… but I still got the job and never wore the suit or heels again!


    1. I bet you made a terrific impression in your suit and heels. Like you, my interview suit (that’s what I called it since I only wore it for interviews) sat in the back of my closet collecting dust for years. I recently donated it to the Dress for Success organization which collects work apparel for women in need. I hope a woman was able to use it. Those were some b-i-g shoulder pads. πŸ™‚


  7. OMG – how did I miss that Seinfeld episode? Classic (and hilarious). Most memorable job interview was probably in Arizona – middle of August, one of the hottest days on record (114), the sun bearing down and me still thinking, “Oh my God. I’m here. I’m actually interviewing here. I want to LIVE here.”

    Now, on the other side of the table, I put my interviewees through the wringer when I was the boss. The poor things — looking back, I subjected them to writing tests, multiple colleague interviews, etc. all for entry-level positions. That kind of torture, at the university where I worked, was generally reserved for director-level positions and higher. The good news, though: I DID end up with the right hire and two very good candidates! πŸ˜‰ I’m sure THEY would note that interview as their most ‘memorable.’


    1. Sounds like you were one tough interviewer! I would have been incredibly nervous being grilled by you. πŸ™‚ I probably would have said something ridiculous and put my foot in my mouth within the first 20 seconds. What type of work did you do for the university?


  8. I really enjoyed this post, Jackie. We’ve had some strange ones show up over the years. We have a couple of questions about how the interview handles conflict in the workplace. One guy told Brian (asst. mgr.), “I guess I’d just have to throw down.” Needless to say, no 2nd date for him. πŸ™‚


  9. I once showed up for an interview in a tee shirt and jeans, but I had a really good reason. At first the woman was about to write me off, then I explained that my roommate was in a car accident the night before and I was also pet sitting for a friend so I completely spaced the interview until an hour before and by that time I didn’t have time to race home and change. I actually got the job.


    1. What a day for you! I would have definitely given you “brownie” points for even keeping the appointment after all of those events. I wonder if the Birkenstock girl had a similar tale. It would have gone a long way to helping me understand her choices, but if she did, she never said.


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