(Note: The names and locations are being slightly altered to avoid any nonsense).
During the Summer of 2010, a bunch of stuff happened at my job. By bunch of stuff, I mean the largest project in the history of the company that just happened to be not only a national story, but involved multi-national corporations and was probably the largest news story of the year, happened.
In August, the project started and turned my office from a small, experienced staff of less than a hundred into a three-shift, twelve hundred strong staff of complete strangers with no idea what was going on from day to day. Well, after day one, nobody really knew what was going on day to day, but that’s expected when something of this magnitude strikes with little warning or preparation.
My job at the time was relatively mundane and redundant, but with the influx of work, I was in need of help. At first my wife Katie and her friend Sarah were assisting me, as they were both on Summer break from teaching and happy to make some extra cash. But soon they would be returning to regular employment, so I had to find a more permanent solution to the increased volume of work.
It was around this time I started having a couple of temporary employees who had been identified as good workers (i.e. they showed up on time, didn’t make too many mistakes) in to replace Katie and Sarah. Eventually, a woman named Melissa (not her real name) ended up becoming my unofficial assistant.
I’m not the most chatty person, but if people start conversations with me, I’m happy to oblige, and Melissa was chatty. In the course of our discourse, she mentioned that she had once worked for a company that did corporate headhunting, and now on the side used her corporate connections to score people jobs. She had cut out the middle man of going through the agencies, and got a nice finder’s fee when a company would fill one of their positions. Seemed reasonable, I thought. At one point she mentioned that she really didn’t like working temp jobs, but they were good opportunity to meet people, network and find candidates for new positions.
A month later, due to the volume of the new, high-visibility project, the office got rearranged and the new project took over the majority of my working space, forcing me and a small team to be relegated to an out of the way office to do our job. Melissa sat at a desk next to mine, and she began mentioning that she thought there were better paying jobs that I would be well suited for, and asked if I would be interested in having my resume submitted? Hey, I’m part capitalist, I’m not opposed to making more dough, so I said sure. She even threw in that one of the temps, Shania, that had previous been helping me had recently found a permanent, better paying job thanks to her connections.
Soon after, Melissa approached me with two job options – one for a large bank managing a big group of people for about 1.5x what I was making, and another at a large prestigious non-profit. The first option was better pay, but the second option really appealed to me. She said she’d set up both interviews on consecutive days, so that if they went well, I’d be able to leverage one against the other.
A few weeks go by, and she lets me know that the dates are set up. Now she starts quizzing me about interviewing – when is the last time you interviewed? How would you answer this and that question? I was admittedly rusty, so she says we should meet away from work and go over interview questions. She sends me links to websites and articles to read, and we meet at a Panera for lunch and start going over basic interview questions. Keep in mind, this was a day off for her, and she brought along her kid. I offered to pay, but she said she worked with a partner from New Jersey named Polly, and Polly pays for this sort of stuff.
With the interviews only days away, Melissa makes a bold statement – you’re getting the non-profit job, they’ve agreed on a salary as long as I nail the interview, which of course, she says, I will. She wants to have someone else interview for the bank, which I’m okay with but makes Katie nervous, because what if the non-profit job falls through? Melissa tells me that Polly, her partner, is going to give me a phone call to go over the specifics of the interview, which I found out included some pretty gossipy stuff about the managers I would be reporting to, as well as about the person I would be replacing who was still on the job.
Polly, who was calling from a trip on the West Coast, was late, but we had the phone conversation and everything seemed to go well. She explained I should expect a call from the assistant of the person who would interview me the night before to confirm the interview, which seemed normal. The evening came, and the set call time passed, and I got nervous. Why wasn’t the assistant calling? I called Melissa, I called Polly, and eventually they both got back to me. They called the assistant’s boss – what was going on? Turns out the assistant had a child, who had a peanut allergy, and who accidentally ate peanuts at school. So the kid when into anaphylactic shock and got rushed to the hospital. The kid’s okay, but the interview would have to be rescheduled. Problem was, the boss would out of town for three weeks. Disappointed but understanding, the interview got rescheduled for three weeks later on a Thursday.
Our second meeting was at a nearby Mexican restaurant, Casa Patron, and again we go over interview stuff as the dates approach, and again she picks up the check. She also gives me a leather-bound Franklin Covey binder, explaining that I should bring it with me on the interviews so that I can have copies of my resume, references, etc. on hand in case they ask. She also says that since I had scheduled off for the original interview, Polly would reimburse me for the time off. Nonsense, I said, I ended up working anyway. But Polly felt bad, so the next day Melissa handed me a check for the amount I lost taking the time off.
Over the course of those three weeks, Melissa’s attendance at work became spotty, to the point where after three weeks pass, and the interview is only days away, I haven’t seen or heard from her in several days. At one point, I got her on the phone, and she explained her kid had been sick, and she had to stay at home because her parents were unable to watch him. She interrupts – she has to go, but she’ll call me later. And that was the last time I spoke to her.
The morning of the interview, only hours away, and I’ve received no confirmation call the night before, not heard from Melissa, so I called the non-profit. Pardon me, but have you heard of this person, the boss? No? How about this person, the assistant? No? Okay, does your H.R. department hire corporate or independent head hunters? No? No, I don’t know what the hell is going on either, thanks.
I start asking around the office – did you ever talk to Melissa about getting new job? Jean says yes, but the interview never happened, she was told it got delayed, then Melissa stopped showing up for work. Glenda says the same thing, and adds that Melissa told her that I went on an interview with a bank, but blew it and didn’t get the job. Huh.
I walk down the hall and find a girl who was friends with Shania how she got her new job. Her friend says, she always had the job, she was just working her temporarily, and Melissa had nothing to do with it.
The job interviews – not real. Not for me, not for Jean, not for Glenda. Shania got the job on her own. The people at the non-profit – not real. And then it hits me – Polly wasn’t real either, which means all the back stories, the kid with the peanut allergy, everything – all made up. But why?
Because now I’ve gotten a leather bound Franklin Covey binder, two free lunches and a check to reimburse my time off, so this can’t be a con, right? Can it? Was it psychological? Did she have some desire to constantly be of value to people, or need to do this to engage in normal human interaction? None of it made sense, other than this was some sort of botched long con that I stumbled upon to early, but I seriously doubt that.
Months later, Glenda received a voicemail from Melissa. She had to move to New York City abruptly to live with her sister, sorry she left without saying anything. That was it.
I tore up the check, figuring the account was probably empty or closed, but I still have the Franklin Covey leather binder. I’d love to run into her one day and find out what the hell that was all about.