August 18, 2013

Meeting Friedrich von Borries. About My Worst/Best Job Interview Ever

Trying to get the face right for the photo on my German CV

People have asked me how I feel about the new piece that interacts (or not) now with The Right to be Lazy by John Knight in Hamburger Bahnhof. It is called “Weltverbesserungsmachine” (“world improving machine”) and it is a huge pyramid. It’s made or curated by Friedrich von Borries and his design office. I didn’t see the object yet. But I did meet Friedrich von Borries once. That meeting did not exactly take place in the best circumstances. It has been labeled in my memoirs as my best and worst job interview at the same time. That might seem impossible, but I can tell you, it is possible. The story goes like this:

It was a few years ago in the art school in Hamburg where Borries is a teacher. I’m there for a job interview for a post-doc for his project “Urban Interventions”. The interviewees are invited for the closing party/exhibition of the art academy the night before the interview. Excellent. So I take the train to Hamburg, go to the party, and introduce myself to Borries. That’s where it starts to go wrong. Borries is apparently so super interested in me that he can’t wait to ask me questions. I joke that the interview is supposed to be happening the next day at 9am. But to no effect: Borries thinks it is good to have a first impression without having his colleagues nosing around. Alright, in the mid of this party I do my best to come up with smart answers. It is very hard to do so in a consistent way since we get constantly interrupted by Borries’ cell phone or by people saying hello (for the non-Germans reading this story: no, this is not the occasion where I get exclusive introductions to the arty people Borries knows. This is not America, this is Germany where “us knows us” so you must imagine me being transparent, which did not exactly improve the consistency of my answers). 

Okay, I was a little bit shaken by that “interview party”, I admit, but what the heck: the next morning at 9 I show up in the academy for the real interview, all dressed up in a suit - that’s what they taught me in the European workshop “For Women Scientists to Advance”: wear a suit because otherwise women don’t convey authority during the job interview. Thanks European Women to Advance: I’m totally out of place at the art school that morning at 9am. It smells like beer all over the place, dripping out of left-behind bottles from the party the night before. A bunch of people is waiting in front of Borries’ office door. We look at one another with great surprise. We were expecting a private job interview. At 9am Borries comes out of his office and that’s when I look even more out of tune. His shirt is hanging out of his trousers, his hair is messed up. He looks as if he just jumped out of his bed... and he apparently did. Everything under control: I just try to play it cool and change my face accordingly. 

We are all called into Borries’ office and he explains the “concept” of this job interview. We get colors, scissors (not enough for everyone of us, we have to share), and a paper and we have to make something creative out of it... I’m forgetting the details of the assignment because we are all so baffled  (our jaws dropped, there goes the coolness) being in the (apparently wrong) belief that we left kindergarden a long time ago. We don’t have a space to be “creative” but we can just chill and sit down somewhere in the academy. On the door there is a paper that tells us what time we can come back for the private interview. After that, at around 2 in the afternoon, we have to come back to interact with one another. This way Borries can see from up-close how we do socially and who is most fitting for his project. A job interview of half an hour for a half-time job is so passé: you can spend a whole day with your (hopefully) future boss so you reveal your authentic self and drop your act.  

My personal interview is at 11.30 am. It’s still 9 in the morning, no living soul except for us, the poor victims of Borries’ originality, and no open coffee shop nearby. We are all standing there kind of lost. Somebody tells me that Borries made already clear to him the night before that this is a half-time position, but one is expected to work full-time - a very common practice in the German academic world (about the anti-intellectual tendencies in Germany, that’s another story). That is the final drop that makes the bucket run over, so to speak. I head out of the academy deciding to call it a quit. Yet the little devil on my shoulder is having its impact and so midway between school and train station I turn around and walk back. I ask the interviewee who is waiting in front of Borries’ office if I can have 5 minutes of his interview time. He welcomes it. So I walk in and tell Borries where exactly he can stick his “Urban Intervention” project. I was totally out of line, I guess, but hey, what seemed to be the worst job interview ever - actually in the end it turns out I have even fond memories of it.  

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