Applying for a job shouldn't be this difficult.

Back when I lived in Arizona, I applied for a job as a beer merchandiser at Pearce Beverage Company. A beer mechandiser, in case you're wondering, is the guy who goes around town setting up those suspiciously elaborate displays of alcohol involving dangerously high stacks of beer cases, cardboard supermodels in the aisles, inflatable blimps hanging from the ceiling, entry boxes for pointless sweepstakes, and, if necessary, sticky rebate coupons on every case. They're actually considered a step down from salesmen, because their jobs doesn't involve much paperwork. Frankly, the greatest intellectual challenges of being a merchandiser are figuring out how high one can stack beer without killing customers in an avalanche of cans, and occasionally pulling an past-date case off the shelves.

Now, I want you to keep in mind that I spent three years running the beverage section of badly-run drug/grocery store in my hometown. Since merchandisers don't pay much attention to small-town grocery stores, I was the guy who had figure out how high one can stack beer without killing customers, and the guy who knew how to read the secret expiration dates on forty brands of beer. (In fact, I became the Web's expert in reading the secret expiration dates on beer. I'm one of the people newpapers call for information.) So, I have three years experience at this job. When I saw the newspaper ad for it, I called immediately.

The staffing agency that was doing the pre-screening for Pearce Beverage Company thought I was the man. I had experience, I had expertise, I already had a denim shirt with Miller Lite's logo on it. As far as they were concerned, there was nothing that could stop me. So, the morning after visiting the staffing agency, I go to the address they gave me for the final interview. It's at the distributor's warehouse/office building on the south side of Phoenix -- a large building surrrounded by trucks and other warehouses, with a little sign on the front saying that the building is closed because they've moved to another location.

And you wonder why I'm cynical about corporations?

So, I stare at the sign for a minute. That doesn't help. I look through the glass door at the empty receptionist's desk in the darkened lobby, wondering if somebody's hiding back there. That doesn't help either. I can see that there are some cars in the parking lot, so I figure somebody must be in the building somewhere. I decide to walk around the building looking for unlocked doors, because at this point, even getting arrested for trespassing seems more productive than going home.

As it turns out, Pearce Beverage Company is still using the warehouse part of their warehouse/office -- the warehouse dock entrance is wide open and unguarded. I wander among the twenty-foot high stacks of beer until I accidentally find an employee. Explaining my situation to him, he directs me through some doors leading to a small cafeteria, where I find the two guys waiting to interview me. (Yeah, this is a well-run outfit.) I tell them all about my experience. They mostly ask for reassurance that I can do the heavy lifting. I explain, of course, I look thin, but I did all the heavy lifting at the grocery store, so no problem, I can carry beer around all day, five cases at a time. (I have long arms.) They seem reasonably impressed with me, so I leave feeling pretty good about the interview, despite the difficultly of actually finding the interview.

So, a couple of days later, I get the call from the staffing agency. Pearce Beverage Company doesn't want me because... they're looking for someone with more experience. You know what the worst part of that is? The newspaper advertisment said no experience necessary. Good God, is it too much to ask companies to read their own advertisments before wasting my time?

That's my "perfect job, bad ad" story for 2002. Which brings me to this year's "perfect job, bad ad" story....

A national research company advertised in Sunday's Detroit papers, looking for local interviewers to do household interviews on a federal health care study. The job would require out-of-town training and lots of driving. I could do that. I have a degree in a social science. (My undgraduate advisor, in fact, was a medical anthropologist who made me do way too much reading on public health issues.) Interviewing people is what I know how to do. I've done health care interviews in Detroit before. I like visiting total strangers at home. I like to travel out-of-town. I have a car that gets great mileage. This should be a slam dunk for me, right?

The ad had a toll-free number to call for "more information and an application", as well a fax number for applicants who wanted to send a résumé immediately. I decided to call first, figuring the more information I had, the better I could make myself look when applying. That's when it started getting kafkaesque.

On Monday, I call the phone number. It leads to voice mailbox whose message tells me that people interested in the Detroit job are supposed to call a different toll-free number. So I call the second number. The only thing at the second number is a bunch of beeps, and a robot voice announcing "messages full". Sigh.

So, I spend part of Monday and Tuesday calling the second number at various times, hoping that I can get through. No such luck. I give up on talking to a human being and decide to fax my résumé. (The fax number, by the way, isn't toll-free, instead using the area code for northwest Ohio. I considered that a good thing, because it suggests to me that the out-of-town training might be in an area I used to live.) I start up the fax software that came with my modem, and try to fax a résumé directly from MS Word. It doesn't work. After calling my computer motherfucker a few times, I determine that the fax program depends on my computer believing the fax program is a printer, and that the computer no longer believes such. (I suspect upgrading to Windows XP broke this -- it's been four months since I upgraded, and I'm still finding programs it broke.) At this point, the most logical thing to do is reinstall the fax program, and hope it works again.

But, for some reason, the installation disc for the program is the only disc not inside one the two boxes I keep old installation discs in. I angrily tear apart two rooms of my house before finding it stuck between two magazines on the bookshelf nearest my bed. (I still don't know what it was doing there.) Fortunately, reinstalling the program does repair it, so I fax the résumé. Does it go through? Of course not, because the fax machine on the other end isn't picking up.

So, I spend Tuesday and Wednesday alternately trying to fax the résumé and calling the full voice mailbox. The fax still doesn't go through, and the voice mailbox is still full. Out of frustration, I try calling the original phone number from the advertisement again. Now it's full, too. I try calling the fax number on a regular phone, hoping maybe someone will pick it up I let it ring for a while. No such luck.

Wednesday night, I get the bright idea of looking up the research company online. The job listing section of their website doesn't list regional positions, only "home office" (Washington, D.C.) positions. It does, however have a home office fax number for résumés. I debate faxing my résumé directly to them with a note explaining that the Ohio number is unreachable, but I can't decide whether that would be considered dedicated for desperate. I decide to sleep on it.

Thursday morning , I resolve to give the Ohio fax number one last try before going with the "desperate" option and faxing my résumé to Washington. Guess what? The fax goes through on the first try. Now, after four days of phone games, I have no idea if I was the first person to get a résumé through to them, or the ten-thousandth. Either way, I'm not terribly optimistic about getting a call from them.

And that is my "perfect job, bad ad" story for 2004, just in time for 2005. Happy Fucking New Year, World!

Posted at 12:59:15 AM EST on 31 December 2004 from Trenton, MI