Having finally procured the Bachelor's degree in English I spent the last two years putting off (seriously, I needed three credits), I decided it was time to embark on the search for a new profession.
I took to Craigslist, as it was my habit to search there for anything I needed. Now, we've all heard the stories about how Craigslist can be creepy, but since I was 18 and on my own for the first time, I had used it so often and met so many interesting people that I tended to brush off those stories as nothing more than freak incidents. Being careful, keeping your wits about you and reading between the lines, I reasoned, goes a long way in preventing Craigslist crime from happening to you.
Posters advertising for a standard job but specifying females only? Creepy. An ad for a mini fridge with a webcam bedroom selfie in a wife-beater attached? Creepy. That business professional looking for a personal assistant with an "open mind"? Probably creepy.
Armed with my intuition, I took to the job listings and scanned it for entry-level writing and office administration jobs. I had never worked in an office environment before, and I was painfully behind on how to use basic computer programs and equipment (read: I have difficulty operating my own printer). I replied to what seemed like 100 job listings, crossed my fingers and prepared to wait a couple of weeks. Within a couple of hours, I had a reply. It was from a doctor who was advertising for an office assistant.
He said he was moving to town within the next month to begin his practice in Tennessee and that he was coming down this week to interview candidates for the position. He requested that we meet in the lobby of a nearby Marriott hotel at 9 a.m. for an interview. I called my sister to ask if she thought it was appropriate to meet in a hotel lobby. We agreed that, considering he had not opened his practice and did not yet live in the city, this was appropriate.
I emailed him back and agreed to meet. Within the hour, he sent a long, detailed message including some light information about his personal life. And then, there it was, the sentence that caused the first red flag to crop up in the back of my mind: "No need to dress up for the interview -- just wear comfortable, casual" it read.
Why did he feel the need to suggest how to dress? I had never had what I considered a "professional" job before, but wasn't it the unspoken norm to dress at least in business casual attire? I reasoned that perhaps he didn't bring any professional attire himself, or perhaps he was extremely laid-back and wanted me to know that.
Still, the red flag feeling refused to dissipate. Aside from that one little sentence, he hadn't said or done anything to indicate that he wasn't legitimately searching for an office assistant. I went to the local thrift store and picked out a black blouse and A-line skirt. I didn't own anything professional and, despite that pesky sentence, I was determined to give off a professional impression and land a job.
I arrived at the interview early and sat on a padded lounge chair attached to a small table, with another chair opposite it. The lobby swarmed with business people, eating their breakfast and typing away on laptops. I felt comfortable and at ease as I noticed groups of professionals meeting and chatting all around me.
He arrived in the lobby a couple minutes later, dressed in business casual. He was a short, wiry man, balding and gray-haired. He had a nervous, anticipatory presence about him. My mind flashed back to the longer personal email he sent me in which he stated that he was in his late thirties. He at LEAST had to be in his late forties, and that was if I was being generous. A second, large red flag cropped up, this one waving and frantic.
I was already there, and we had already introduced ourselves, so I felt obligated to proceed with the interview, even though I already felt uncomfortable. He suggested we move to a quieter place, and I immediately suggested the far end of the lobby, before he could suggest what I assumed would be his hotel room.
My intuition told me that one lie was enough to indicate this man was full of them. The interview was lengthy and he kept to a professional level, describing the mundane duties I would have as an office assistant, the pay, and the hours. He never calmed down, anxiously stringing sentences together and barely pausing to ask me questions about my experience. I sat quietly and listened. Then it happened. He told me there were important spreadsheets I needed to see if I wanted the job, and that they were up in his hotel room.
"OK," I said, and remained seated while I watched him stand up and gather his things. "I'll wait here while you grab them," I explained, when he turned around, looking confused and more anxious than ever.
"Why don't you just come with me?" he asked, his face now pale and sticky looking. I took a deep breath as my nerves crept into my hands, causing them to shake.
"I'm just not comfortable with that. I'll wait here and you can bring them down," I tried to be as firm as possible. There was silence, and he shifted back and forth on his feet.
The rest of the interview was a blur. He resorted to pleading with me to come up to his hotel room, and finally my legs stopped shaking and my body calmed long enough for me to stand up, mutter a weak apology and book it to the front door of the hotel.
I scrambled into my car so quickly that the seam down the back of my skirt ripped all the way up to my butt crack. I chain smoked the whole way home and called the hotel from the safety of my apartment. I asked if they had any knowledge of this man, who I only knew as "Dr. Johnson"* and if they could report him for me, or at the least keep an eye out for any future interviews he might conduct.
They assured me they knew exactly who I was talking about and that they would do everything possible. Without his name, and without any real incident to report, I left it at that, and prayed that future interviewees would have the same intuitive feelings I had, and book it outta there. They didn't.
A couple of weeks later, I saw his picture plastered across a local news website. He had been arrested for impersonating a licensed professional. He had drugged and attempted to sexually assault a female who did go up to his hotel room during the job interview. I shook my head, stunned and saddened that I hadn't known to do anything more to stop this from happening, and grateful for my own instincts finally leading me to run out of that hotel lobby.
I still use Craigslist and believe in the inherent good will of mankind, but this experience has completely leveled my feelings of invincibility, and I've taken to using social networking and other, more straightforward websites for job hunting.
I have learned that, although I utilized good sense and got out of there unscathed, I need to trust my instincts more directly. It's incredible how many feelings I reasoned away or altogether ignored during this experience. I have always considered myself strong-willed and savvy. Why didn't I just walk away? Why was I shaking so badly that I couldn't even stand up? Why were my body and mind at odds?
My only hope is that someone else will read this and perhaps decide to trust their own instincts next time they are in a situation that doesn't feel right.
*name has been changed