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Those job interviews just reward good liars. Here's what really matters in a job.

What You Really Need to Ask

I hate job interviews. Three people surround you with a list of 20 irrelevant questions and take turns asking them. They all methodically write your answers down.

They already know you are qualified to do the job. They decided this from your resumé. That's why you got the interview. This is the swimsuit part of the job pageant. They want to look at you. They want to decide how you're going to fit into their office, based on your appearance, voice, behavior.

As for the questions, they only serve to reward people who are good at lying on their feet quickly and convincingly. Everything the interviewee may be saying could be baloney, and they don't know that.

Describe yourself in four adjectives. Describe a difficult situation at your current job and how you handled it. What are your greatest strengths?

What this gets you is a future employee who will be able to call in sick, even when he's not, and make you believe it. Or will be able to provide a credible explanation off the cuff about why a project isn't ready on deadline, even when that explanation is not remotely accurate.

After this interviewing farce, they usually ask you if there's anything you'd like to know about the job. And you come up with some lame questions like benefits or hours.

You never ask what you really need to know, like this:

How crazy are my co-workers and bosses? Most of the jobs I've had, the work has been OK or even enjoyable. I wouldn't have applied for the job if I didn't think it was something I'd enjoy or could do. But when I've quit, it's always been because the people were insane.

How many women in your office are childless and what positions of power are they in? If you have kids, a childless woman boss is not going to comprehend one iota of what your life is like. And the reverse is true. If you are not raising kids and you land a job in an office surrounded by women who spend 80 percent of their work time raising the kids by telephone, it's going to drive you crazy.

Who smokes and are they management or peons? If management smokes, the peons who also smoke are going to be sharing quality, relaxation time with the bosses out on the sidewalk half a dozen times a day. They will bond on a level the nonsmokers cannot hope to obtain. This is such a truth, it's already been an episode of "Friends." And if your boss doesn't smoke, he or she is going to perceive all the smoke breaks you need as wasted time.

How many people in the office wear excessive amounts of cologne, and how close will they sit to you? I know when certain employees are anywhere on my floor because I can smell them, even down the hall. One wears such a heavy coating of musk cologne I can literally taste it in my mouth. The odor lingers long after they're gone. I've heard of all kinds of office fracases due to odors. One cubicle dweller even took issue with the smells of gum or mints being used in adjoining cubicles.

There are other issues with smells. I have despised jobs where co-workers frequently went out for Chinese, but didn't stay out with it. They brought it back to their desks where the stench hung in the air for the rest of the afternoon. Microwave-popcorn poppers who don't hit the timer just exactly right might as well just launch a stink bomb down the hall.

Who is a cleaning fanatic, and how much power do they have? My style of organization requires that I have things I need at hand, so there is the appearance of clutter. The cleaning fanatics will go so far as to throw things in your office out, things you needed, to bring its appearance up to their standards. And there's not much you can do if they're higher on the pecking order.

For some reason, the cleaning fanatics tend to be the same group that likes to celebrate birthdays, promotions and departures with baked goods. Any excuse for yet another office cake is seized, but then they chase you down the hall with a vacuum cleaner because you dropped a crumb.

Are you being hired to do the job as outlined, or are these Secret Hidden Responsibilities, like watering the plants? I once had a boss who hired me for my computer skills but yelled at me every day because the plants weren't thriving.

How crazy are the coffee people? Office Coffee Nazis have pinned dozens of notes around the coffee area with warnings to pay for every cup, clean up after yourself, avoid leaving cups in the sink, turn the pot off when the coffee is low, whoever takes the last cup has to make the next pot, and so on. Half their day is spent policing other people's coffee habits, obsessing about the coffee situation.

Are the bosses big-picture people or little pickers? In the big-picture view, the job is getting done. It's getting done well. It's getting done on schedule. But that's not enough for little pickers. They may want you to come in exactly on time. Not five minutes late, but exactly. They may put a stopwatch on lunch or breaks. Or they may require dozens of little progress reports, explanations of how your time was spent, budgets of how you expect to spend your time next week, time-off requests in triplicate and signed by three levels of managers. The evidence that the work is actually getting done is not enough. Staff meetings are spent discussing disappearing pencils or toilet paper supply. It's like the part in "The Caine Mutiny" where the captain becomes obsessed with whether or not someone is stealing the strawberries from the food locker.

These are some of the questions I'd like to ask at job interviews. I want to know the personal quirks and habits of everyone who is going to sit near me, or make decisions about how I get the job done. I'm spending 40 to 50 hours a week with these people. I'll see them more than my family. These issues are the nitty-gritty of whether or not you're going to be successful and effective in that position.

But if you actually asked questions like that, they'd think you were insane. You'd never get hired.

Mariane Matera is a free-lance writer who lives in Richmond.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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