You Don’t Always Want What You Get by
(24 Stories)

Prompted By Interviews

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I’ve always loved going for interviews.  I know how to shine at an interview. And I almost always get the job or the date. I like the rush of ‘winning.” But I don’t always want what I get.

Fresh out of U of Michigan nursing school, I followed my med school grad husband to Oakland, California for his internship at Kaiser. He was going to earn so much money ($6,000/year) that I could take my time finding the perfect job. So I interviewed here and there. I was a nurse who hated being around sick people but enjoyed being around ‘crazy’ people, so I looked for jobs as a psych therapist. I interviewed at a child psych center and got that job. Also at Kaiser, at Herrick, and at the West Oakland Health Center. I got them all. But the last one interested me the most. West Oakland was the heart of the Black Panther action in the early 1970’s. I’d been an activist in college, so working in the Black community at a federally funded community health center where I might be in the middle of some kind of action sounded like fun. I was the only white Jewish girl working there. The shrink I worked with was a big, Black dude named Isaac. He saw clients on the other side of the wall from my office, so one day when I was trying to hang some pictures on my wall, he walked in and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was looking for a stud. Duh. I still remember his grin as he informed me I’d found one!

Soon thereafter a couple of Panthers dropped in to see what was up. They sat across from me, put their feet up on my desk. Rubbed their cigarettes out on my desk. And asked me what a white, honky bitch could do for their community. That was my real interview.

Some years later, I convinced the editor of the Montclarion, a weekly paper here in Oakland, to hire me as her education reporter. My interview there was actually a year’s long series of freelance articles I kept sending her, which she kept running in the paper! So when she asked if I’d cover for the vacationing education reporter during the Board of Education budget hearings, I said yes, though I knew zip about budgets. I wasn’t going to pass up that opportunity. I suffered through those hearings, straining to understand what they were talking about, what their priorities were and how they were going to ever balance their budget. And I wrote the articles, explaining to the public exactly what I had learned. At the end of the two weeks I was hired to be the education reporter who was moved to cover City Hall. Honestly, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. A full time job as a reporter was my absolute dream. And I did that for a few years. But once an activist, always an activist. I helped organize a walkout against the publisher for firing the editor (who had hired me) because she ran a story that exposed the local police chief for gambling the city’s money away at a local card casino. There was nothing wrong with the story. Unfortunately, the police chief was a friend of the publisher who fired us all.

After that, when I interviewed for full-time positions at the Bay Area daily papers, even when I thought the position had my name on it, they weren’t interested in hiring me. Not then, when unions were strong and it was hard to fire a reporter. But they were happy to run my stories. So for a while I freelanced stories for them. But then I decided I needed a job that paid me a salary. So I applied for anything that looked like a writing job.

I read an ad that sounded interesting. It was for a marketing job. I thought that might be the same as advertising. I could write advertising, I thought. So I went to the interview. It turned out to be a group interview. Maybe 25 people were in the room. The small business consulting company wanted to hire us all. I think they call that throwing ‘mud’ on the wall. They took us aside for private interviews. The manager who interviewed me told me as I sat there with my giant Jew-fro, my embroidered Mexican blouse and my finest blue jeans, that I would have to get my hair cut, buy a navy blue wool suit, a white blouse and a red tie, shave my legs (how did he know?) and learn to put makeup on. Then I’d have to memorize a script and say it to 100 business owners a week. I was about to walk out when he said if I did what they asked I would make at least $40,000 a year! Wow! 1978. I’d made $18,000 as a reporter. So I did it. For a year. I learned a lot about sales, about business and about budgets. I realized all the people we consulted with had every penny of their savings tied up in their small businesses. They had no security for themselves and their families unless they worked every day for the rest of their lives.

So I started thinking about learning financial planning. I went for interviews. It was a man’s world, back then. There were few women in the field. The men who interviewed me asked me how many friends I had, how many clubs I belonged to, how many sports figures I knew. I took a profile test in each office. They wanted to know if I was a man with two cars in the garage and a wife at home to cook for me and raise the kids. They asked questions like, “Is it ever okay to lie?”  I failed miserably. But I found an office with a woman manager who had hired a whole lot of formerly politically active women. She interviewed me. She told me how to answer the questions on the same profile test so her male ‘superiors’ would let her hire me. She knew I’d be great, she said.  For the next 32 years I built a terrific practice working with people like myself who didn’t trust people who worked in the field I was in or for the companies I represented. But they trusted me. They knew I had their best interest in mind because I felt the same as they did. But I did continue to wear that navy blue wool suit with the white blouse and a little touch of red above the waist when I interviewed them.

Profile photo of Penny K Penny Righthand

Characterizations: well written


  1. Wow Penny, I’m awed by all you’ve done with grit and self-assurance!
    I think you got what you need!

  2. Suzy says:

    Penny, I love this story! Obviously your title’s twist on the Rolling Stones song really spoke to me, since I specialize in musical titles. Also, I thought your path through the work world was fascinating. You clearly knew how to shine at interviews, since you got every job you interviewed for. Looks like you are wearing your navy blue suit, white blouse, and a little bit of red in your profile picture.

  3. Fascinating story, Penny! I love how your zest for nailing the interviews resulted in your entering fields you may have known little about yet rose to the challenge and then some, and then found ways to turn your strength and passion into assets for your clients. Brava!

  4. Marian says:

    A fascinating recap of interviews at an interesting time, Penny. I remember that uniform well and how we did or didn’t adopt it.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    Great story, Penny. Clearly, you have figured out how to play the interview game to perfection. No small feat and, of course, not really due to the blue suit. To the contrary, it obviously reflects your understanding of what the job entailed (and didn’t entail — like lying) and how you could bring your own passion to it.

    And I particularly like your title, as it will soon appear (exactly as written by Sir Keith and Sir Mick) in my story in response to the “letters to your younger self” prompt.

  6. Betsy Pfau says:

    Fascinating journey through your interviewing expertise, but even better were the various incarnations your professional life took, including the way you had to dress to get the job, and how to present yourself. I entered professional sales in 1978, did the “dress for success” thing also (didn’t wear a navy suit, but definitely jacket, skirt, blouse and little heels), so totally get what you went through. Wonderful that you found a true calling and people TRUSTED you. I agree, that is the most important! Great story.

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