I Went to a Pyramid Scheme Yesterday

There is nothing more soul-crushing than the job hunt. (I wonder how many internet articles within the last two years have started out like that). But it’s true: there’s no other activity that concentrates your value and worth as a human being/productive member of society into a sheet of paper and the ability to sell yourself without looking desperate. Yet, the more time you spend unemployed, the more desperate you become: a vicious catch-22 that makes it HARDER to become employed the longer you are unemployed. You seek out weird outlets, go to great lengths to meet requirements to jobs that you have no previous interest in. For example, I spent 5 days writing Yelp reviews to boost my profile for the job of Community Manager in North County San Diego… basically professional party guy (or the equivalent of Slurms McKenzie, Ke$ha). It’s not a job I’m qualified for, or even want… but it was a job.

You’re sending out resumes by the boatload, so when I got the phone call from “Sa;lfkj from the company dapfjpaf,” all I heard was “We saw your resume on Careerbuilder.” She sets up the interview, tells me to wear a tie because I was going to meet with a “lot of top executives”. Sounded important. After the call, and since she didn’t repeat the name of the company, I go to my email, search “Careerbuilder” and see that, indeed, I had used the site to apply to Vistage – a peer-to-peer coaching group for CEOs, or the facebook for billionaires.

I drive to a business-park office in a sea of other businessy things. Seems like a legit place for a powerful company to maintain a low-profile status. However, the inside is a bit shabby. Temporary carpet lines the hallways. It smells like paint (not fresh). The interview is supposed to take place in suite 106, but there is no listing for that suite on the building’s directory.

“Well,” says my naivety, “maybe it’s just so exclusive that they don’t advertise on the directory.”

The door to Suite 106 has a sheet of paper with the words “American Income Life” typed on it. Regular font, not even stylized. No logo. I push the door open and find a sterile, bare-boned waiting room with a bunch of professional ladies buzzing about. There is a big clock behind the reception counter engraved with three last names, much like an attorney’s office.

It’s obvious by now that this was not Vistage, the company I thought I was interviewing with, but it’s an interview with someone. “Um… I’m Ryan Bradford? I’m here for the interview?” I ask.

The receptionist looks up and is like “Oh, Mr. Bradford!” She might as well have said: “We’ve been waiting for you!” She hands me a clip-board and a sheet to fill out, much like a doctor visit. She says Vanessa will be right with me.

I feel like Michael Douglas from The Game. Other applicants began filing in, each given a clipboard. I filled out the sheet and that moment, a young woman called me back. “How are you doing? Did you find the place alright?”

She asks for my resume. I give it to her. While she reads it, I listen to the racket in the hall. At least five other applicants are greeted by: “How are you? Did you find the place alright?” Body Snatchers much?

“Looks like you’re a writer,” says the woman after going through my resume. “Well what we’re looking for is someone who sees themselves in upper management, do you think that’s you?”

“Yes,” I say, sliding back into professional interviewer mode. “That is definitely me.”

We have a very general back-and-forth, where she asks questions like “where do you see yourself in five years?” “what are your weaknesses?”… etc. And I’m answering them with aplomb! Bam: self-starter! Bam: great collaborator! Bam: engaging with strong minds! By the time she asks, what value I can bring to the company, I’m shouting “HONESTY!” like a half-delusional Andre the Giant. She stands up, shakes my hand and says “Congratulations, you’ve just made it to the next level of the interview!”

No joke.

I strut – STRUT! – down the hall. Next level. Hell yes. Again, I have no idea what the company is or what it does.

I turn the corner and my stomach drops. All the other applicants sit in classroom chairs waiting for something to happen at a podium. My brain goes: FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUU– I see it all. The charade. I turn to leave and a strong guy in a business suit steps in my way. With a huge smile he says, “Just take a seat anywhere.”

Artist Rendition of John

Enter our speaker, John, an Eric Wareheim-looking character with knifey sideburns that extend down to his neck. He wears large rings, bracelets and a black suit that doesn’t fit right. Obviously, very coked up. He begins with a story about after college, all he wanted to do was make six figures. Sniff. He flashes a ring that does not cost six figures.

The company is American Income Life, which we finally learn, provides life insurance. Of course it does. He begins going through his schtick, writing figures on a white board, putting apostrophes where they shouldn’t be: four day’s a week. He can’t spell commitment. He goes on about how AIL serves blue-collar families and unions.

He talks about how fast we’ll make management, how fast it takes for us to move up the ladder. Nobody seems to realize he is literally describing the structure of a pyramid. I look around to see if anyone is catching this, but no–everyone just cares about the mad commissions they’ll make. They’re dreaming about living John’s life. And this strikes me as beyond sad. People are so desperate for jobs right now that it clouds their vision.

Before we leave, John says that some of us will be getting a phone call that night. He ominously states: “This is a very competitive position, so be sure to answer the phone.” Everyone buzzes with excitement as we leave, just hoping for that phone call.

So, what’s the moral of the story? I don’t know. But if any of you need life insurance, hit me up. I’ll give you a good deal.