Mean Girls, Line One

Remember the other day when I said interviews to volunteer aren’t all that nerve-wracking?

Well I take it back.

I was super excited to volunteer at Camp Laurel. It seemed to be a great cause, empowering and entertaining kids whose lives are affected by HIV. Helping families reconnect in the wilderness. Sign me up.

They contacted me a few weeks ago for the winter family camp. I talked to someone last year about summer camp, but my schedule didn’t coincide with their needs. So when I got this recent email, I was happy that this time, scheduling wouldn’t be an issue.

So I filled out the 5-page application. Pretty standard stuff. This isn’t my first rodeo. Former employers. Times three. People who can attest to your experience working with kids. Times three. References who are not coworkers, friends, or relatives. Yep, three more.

Then there were the essay questions. Five of them. Again, a little in-depth, but it’s a sensitive matter. I don’t mind answering essay questions. Until I got to question #3:

“Give us an example of a time when you did not act with integrity. What were the circumstances? Why didn’t you? What happened as a result?”

Whoa. What? My response:

“I can’t think of a situation in my life that would be relevant for this assignment.”

So training is coming up and I email the lady and offer to bring my application in personally. She declines and asks me to fax it and asks if I would be available for a one-hour long phone interview. Of course, I say. Whatever works for you, I say. To myself I say, wouldn’t it be easier for me to come in, bring the application with me and do the interview in person?

Now having had said phone call, I know why they don’t do them in person.

It started routine enough, working our way through the application I sent in. Then we got to the essay questions. And the integrity question. Had I thought of anything since I faxed the application in yesterday? Nope. I reiterated what I had written as a response. We moved on to the next one:

“Describe a difficult situation you have encountered involving a conflict with a peer. How did you resolve the issue and what did you learn from the experience?”

I had responded with something that – while generic – did answer the question. “Can you be more specific?” “What did the text say?” (I kid you not.) (I had alluded to a miscommunication over text as my answer to this question.) I responded that I didn’t see how the specific mattered or what relevance it had for my potential position as a camp counselor. I’m pretty sure I asked for explanation as to what they were trying to get at.

They asked more questions. And wanted specifics. Specific specifics. In some cases things that only close friends, family members and my therapist knows. How is that appropriate and what does it have to do with this?

I have volunteered a lot. For different organizations. Been trusted. Been background checked. Been interviewed. Never anything like this.

“Name a time when you didn’t take initiative and suffered for it?”

I think they would have gladly lapped up dates and times if I could have garnered that information. Any answer I gave led to a follow-up question that dug a little deeper. Which is customary, unless you’re talking about irrelevant things in the first place.

“Name a time when you weren’t adaptable.”

Well, actually, that’s one of my best personality traits. I’m really lucky that way. “Well there must have been one time.” Not that I can think of. And then when I tried to use a random time, they wanted so many specifics I could hardly back it up.

At one point, I took a long pause, trying to come up with the least intrusive answer to give them. “Are you there?” Yes. I guess if I could have been given a list of these questions beforehand I would have been better prepared.

I get that this is what interviews are like. And that you have to be ready to name your strengths and weaknesses, but this wasn’t like that at all. I knew I was giving them too much personal information. It felt like the only possible way they could use it was to judge me and gossip about me later.

The one thing I knew when I hung up the phone was that I didn’t want to go camping with them.

And after they asked me all these hard-hitting questions…they bring up camping scenarios. See also: the relevant questions. I was so admittedly defensive by this point, that while I think I answered the questions well, and remained composed, my thoughts were scattered.

So was it all just a poorly-crafted psych eval? That’s what it felt like. And I understand they would want psychologically-sound camp counselors, but they should definitely be skilled at the art of interviewing at the very least. As someone who has interviewed quite a few people over the past 15 years, I know it’s pretty standard to warm people into invasive questions.

At the end of the interview (50 minutes later) I was reminded that – should I pass this first interview – they would call me within an hour. If I didn’t get a call, I didn’t make it through to the next step: a group interview. I couldn’t imagine what I would have to divulge in that environment.

Also: at one point when I expressed concern about them having such personal information, one of the girls was like, “You would be surprised how much personal information people tell us.”

That didn’t make me feel better.

I didn’t get a call. I sent a follow-up email giving feedback. One of my friends reviewed it as “biting, yet humble.” I’m the Taylor Swift of letter writing.

I didn’t get a response.

I am disappointed it didn’t work out, as it would have been a new type of volunteer experience for me, and I’m pretty sure I would have met some amazing kids and families. But I think you should enjoy volunteering and part of that is feeling cohesive with the people you’re working with.

I also hope these girls and this interview isn’t entirely reflective of the organization at large. Because mostly I really want these kids and their families to have a good time.

As for me, I’m going to go ahead and get CPR-certified – as spending the evening in a firehouse sounds every bit of delightful – and continue to volunteer elsewhere.

Footnote: My backstory is no crazier than anyone else’s nor was my therapist ever shocked or concerned about anything I ever told her. I don’t even see her anymore because at one point she said “I think we’re done here.” So the idea that these two ladies find me an unsuitable fit for this opportunity is more than puzzling. (I didn’t want any of you to think I had a troubling past or something.)

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