I ended up heading to this massive symbol of our nation's defense capabilities not once but twice this week on my lunch break on back-to-back days to chat with people about potentially working with them. And my imagination took over as usual and I couldn't help but wonder if I was being tested beyond just interviews.
First test: Physical Endurance
My first meeting was with a nice female officer who picked me up in the lobby and quickly began to whisk me to the Subway restaurant inside the building:
For those of you who have never visited the Pentagon, there is a giant mall inside with everything from Starbucks' (yes, more than one) to clothing stores to dental offices. You literally could live there for days without ever leaving the building. Which is probably both a good and bad thing for those who work there.
Up ramps, up stairs, down several hallways -- in my heels. All while getting asked questions.
I heard myself trying to answer while simultaneously gasping a little and immediately thought "she's testing me! I'm not in shape enough!"
Jump to the next day, when I'm slightly more prepared for the trek and I'm wearing worn-in heels (I'm sorry, I'm not wearing flats with my interview suit, even if the meeting is taking place is the dang Himalayas...) And that day I'm meeting two different people. So me and the first guy take off and start walking....and walking....forever...
Until finally he asks "do you want to sit or just keep walking?" And surprisingly my heels still feel fine so I bravely say "we can keep walking!"
And then I immediately regret that decision.
My feet start to kill me and we finally get to the next guy's office (up several floors) but he's not there. So the guy I'm with says "hmm, I wonder if he thought he was meeting you in the lobby?"
And that's when I died a little inside as I pictured the marathon distance between me and said lobby and how I was either going to have to crawl, or walk barefoot in the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense, to get back there.
Then thankfully the next guy finally walks in. Phew.
Second test: Being on time
Going back to the first day- knowing that there's a security process in order to get into this place, I arrive half an hour early for my meeting and proceed to feel smug when I get past the metal detectors and situate myself in the lobby well before my escort showed up.
That half-hour buffer failed me on the second day, however.
I arrive in time to see a line about, oh, 127 times the length of the line the day before and I walk up to join the end of it and hear people say "this is the worst I've ever seen security!"
Am I being tested? Punctuality seems like kind of a big deal to the military. I'm so getting judged for this...
Third test: Rank
I assume members of the military don't expect civilians to automatically understand rank but I try to fit into my surroundings regardless. This is extra confusing, however, because the men I'm meeting that day are also technically my colleagues. (They both work for my company but they also serve "part-time" in the Navy.)
So my first meeting was with a Navy lieutenant-commander and my meeting after that was with a Captain (which is a fairly high rank in the Navy, although it's not as high in the Army. Confused yet? Me too.) And to top it all off, both men are the same "rank" as I am at my consulting firm. But they just happened to be wearing their navy "hats" on this day, leaving me to wonder what "hat" I should wear - do I call you by your first name like I would at our company? Do I call you by your title? Do you say the full "lieutenant-commander" phrase or is it just "lieutenant?" Just "commander"? Should I shout out individual letters like I'm a rapper? "L -T- C! in the hooow-use!" (I did not choose that one)
(and before my military friends jump in to inform me, I now know it's just "commander.")
I went with just trying not to address them directly at all.
Yet another test.
Final test: Sound mind
In addition to worrying about what I look like, my punctuality, how heavily I'm breathing while walking, and whether or not I accidentally refer to someone as "Captain Joe Commander Lieutenant," I also start to notice things that make me feel like I'm being punk'd.
First, all my meetings were in random food areas -- does no one use conference rooms around here? Am I being watched?
Then, the first guy (during our ridiculously long walk that I foolishly agreed to) walks me all the way down to one of the Starbucks in the basement, then we find a table in a nice little corner of a food court area. Then, when we go all the way back up a couple floors to hand me off to the next man upstairs in his office, that next man immediately asks if I'd mind-
- if we go down to the food court.
So here I go again, and we go to the exact same Starbucks I was just at, and we go to - I kid you not - nearly the exact same table in the food court that I just sat at with the last guy. This place covers 583 acres, how the heck do I keep ending up in the exact same corner? Are they testing my observation skills? Is that particular corner bugged for interviews?
In the end, I'm sure all of this paranoia was in my own head and the only thing they likely judged me on was my personality and ability to sound halfway intelligent (which we can all agree should also cause me concern, but I digress) but it made for a fun break in the day in any case.
And of course any day I get to spend with men in uniform...
is clearly a good day to me, hazing or not.