Thursday, March 22, 2018

The low point for my first job interview trip

It’s spring, and the time when university students go out on job interview trips. I can’t forget a story about one trip with a very low point over four decades ago. That was back in 1977 when I was a Ph.D. student at Carnegie -Mellon University. I had flown to a large city in Oklahoma (perhaps Tulsa, or maybe Oklahoma City) and then was told to take the mid-afternoon 10-passenger company shuttle plane to a small northern city (like Bartlesville or Ponca City) for an interview at a medium-sized oil company. The Iranian-American manager of their materials and corrosion engineering group took me to dinner, and left me at a motel. Early the next morning he took me to headquarters, and I got to meet and talk with several of his engineers.

It seemed they were just going through the motions. One Egyptian engineer who’d graduated from a well-known US university clearly had been hired very recently. (Later I found out that he had filled the position which I interviewed for. Perhaps HR was just burning up their annual recruiting budget.) Right after an early, large lunch in their company cafeteria, someone drove me to the airport and I headed back on the company shuttle. The shuttle flight was relatively bumpy. After I landed I started walking across the asphalt back to the main terminal entrance in direct sunlight. But the combination of a hot day and a queasy stomach were too much for me. I wound up clutching a chain link fence while vomiting up my lunch, and still want to barf whenever I see that company’s logo. (On March 20, 2018 at Forbes there was an article titled The moment I realized my interview was fake – because they already hired someone).

Some advertised jobs aren’t real - they might be called phantoms; some real jobs never are advertised because they get filled via networking. My first job in Ann Arbor came via networking done by the Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science department head. Robert Sekerka had been talking on the phone about an alumni matter with a manager of the Climax Molybdenum Company lab, William C. Hagel. Then he asked if they had any openings, and was told they were looking for someone to work on sulfide stress cracking (SSC) of alloy steels. Sekerka said, well Garber’s been stinking up the halls with his SSC tests, so you should talk with him. He did, I interviewed, and got the job.

But in between there were two other curious interviews. At Youngstown Sheet & Tube the HR guy was more hostile than a Marine Corps drill sergeant, since he’d been ordered to look for a research guy while they were laying off other operating personnel. Timken research in Canton, Ohio interviewed me too. I was impressed by the facilities, except that all but very senior engineers had their desks in an a huge open ‘bullpen.’ Later I found out that Timken almost never hired fresh PhDs – they preferred instead to send employees hired with less education to Case Western Reserve University part time for their PhDs.                

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