Dressing for a job interview in a bathroom stall

Cirque du Soleil contortionist

Yeah, but can you do this in a bathroom stall, poised over a toilet? (courtesy of connect.in.com)

I’ve been looking for full-time work for about two years. My resume is up to date, and can be tweaked at a moment’s notice. My answers to commonly asked questions sit on the tip of my tongue. And my sincere smile and confident demeanor can be summoned like a spell. This job seeker is ready to interview. But sometimes the hardest part of a job interview has precious little to do with the actual meeting and everything to do with looking the part.

I’ve been freelancing for a company on-site for much of 2010. The dress code is lax—not record-company, I-can’t-believe-your-parents-let-you-out-of-the-house lax—but lax. Jeans and a t-shirt may be fine for work, but they don’t cut it for a job interview. And, of course, most interviews happen during business hours. So the aspiring full-time employee, with dreams of job security and a regular paycheck, has a choice to make. Does he wear a spiffy wool suit to work, sweating on the subway platform, itching all day and enduring the inevitable “got an interview?” question over and over? Or does he bring the suit and change in a bathroom stall? I opted for plan B one fine day this past fall.

My suits and dress shirts and ties are relatively clean and wrinkle-free, not too mention chic and stylish and a whole bunch of other adjectives I found in GQ. And the company that interviewed me is four blocks away from my freelance gig. So I packed up my outfit in a suit bag and lugged it to the office on the subway the morning of. A half hour before the appointed time, I slipped into the bathroom with my clothes. That’s when the fun began.

The bathroom has two stalls, one large and one small. The large one dwarfs some Manhattan apartments. Being wheelchair-accessible, it’s plenty roomy for changing clothes. It even has a hook, which many men’s bathroom stalls don’t for some reason. Maybe I’m just not frequenting the right stalls in the right public bathrooms; maybe I’ve said too much. The large stall was occupied, by someone who sounded (and smelled) like he needed a doctor. So into the small one I went, breathing through my mouth.

The small stall is roughly two feet by four feet in size, and only slightly bigger than some Manhattan apartments. The toilet takes up most of the space, and, like most public toilets, doesn’t have a lid. The stall door won’t close or latch unless the occupant lifts it forcefully with the top of his foot. There is no hook. Though I must admit, the royal blue that adorns the stall walls did have a soothing effect. It lent an air of class to the occasion… low class.

I draped my suit bag over the stall door and stacked the contents of my pockets on the toilet paper dispenser. One false move would land my phone, wallet and keys in the toilet. I turned gently and unzipped the bag. It fell, and I caught it as it hit the floor. No harm done. Holding the bag up with one hand, I took out my shoes with the other. Then I jammed the hanger hooks over the top of the door. The suit bag now hung at a 45-degree angle from the door, making the stall almost two-dimensional.

I replaced my t-shirt with an undershirt and dress shirt and draped the tie around my neck. I sat down on the toilet, took off my jeans and changed my shoes and socks. My performance avoiding the floor with my bare feet would’ve impressed even a Cirque du Soleil recruiter. Clad in a half-buttoned dress shirt, untied dress shoes and tighty whities, I was the picture of hirability. What sane hiring manager wouldn’t employ me on the spot? I considered embracing the look for the interview and going forward in life.

But my discarded sneakers prevented me from actually moving my feet. So I bent over to slide them out of the way, narrowly missing the wall with my head and the toilet bowl water with my tie. A discerning interviewer would probably notice a forehead bruise and wet tie. And any on-the-fly explanation probably wouldn’t, um, fly. Though my headbutting, urinating bum story definitely has potential. We’ll just file that one away for a rainy day.

Catastrophe avoided, I moved on to the pants, which presented an exciting new problem. How does one put on slacks in a bathroom stall without dragging them across the floor? I sat back down, draping them across my lap left to right. I inserted my right foot, pulling my leg all the way through from the bottom of the pants. Then I did the same with my left and stood, cuffs hiked up around my kneecaps. From there, it was all buttoning and tucking and tying and adjusting. Within five minutes, I looked like a million bucks, or at least $12.98.

My acrobatics in the bathroom stall that day would’ve earned me a 10 from the American judge in Olympic competition (9.5 from the East Germans, damn Commies). It could’ve even landed me a sideshow gig the next time Cirque du Soleil plays the Port Authority bus station. At the very least, my amazing display of logistics should’ve got me that full-time job. Alas, the interview just didn’t seem like the place to tout my newfound skills. Nor did I have the foresight to set up a video camera and capture my accomplishment. I didn’t get the job. As they say, hindsight is 20/20.

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  1. Pat wrote:

    Hi Norm, happy new year. We’ve missed you. Great story about changing in a bathroom stall. I must admit I’ve done the same thing. I’ve also orchestrated a full change from the driver’s seat of my car, in the summer with no a/c, with minutes to go before the interview and then suddenly “forgetting” how to tie a tie. I managed to get something knotted but it didn’t look exactly like a GQ effort. Didn’t get the job either.

    Sunday, January 9, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  2. Your escapades could have been a great example for when the interviewer requested the inevitable, “Tell me about a time when you succeeded, though you were unsure of your abilities at the time.” Not getting some sort of human waste on your dress clothes while dressing in a public restroom is an accomplishment!

    Sunday, January 9, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink
  3. Andrew wrote:

    Heh… well, in order to stay on where you’re at (and where I used to be… ask Mel, he knows), you’ve gotta be able to do a lot of things.

    Although, I’ve gotta ask this – were you ever in a Marching Band, specifically in high school? Getting into a full-blown wool uniform in a bathroom isn’t anything new, and after all, isn’t a dress suit nothing more than a uniform?

    Play the psychological game… just show up to work, on a random day, in a suit. When you get asked if you’ve got an interview, just smile and say nothing. Worked for me… 😉

    Keep plugging away, things are getting better… oh, and I hear the Department of Sanitation is hiring for snow plow drivers. Career change or more of the same? You decide. 🙂

    — A

    Monday, January 10, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink
  4. The 405 Club wrote:

    Hey Norm, Just checking in on you. It’s been a while but it looks like you’re still up to the same ol’ shenanigans and “making it work,” surviving and challenging (un)employment. As far as working attire goes, we’ve got a post coming up for what men should wear to work – be on the look out! Hope to hear from you soon over on The 405 Club (Un)Employment Support Network!

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 12:49 am | Permalink
  5. The 405 Club wrote:

    Hey Norm, Just checking in on you. I just tried to write a post but WordPress was being buggy. Hope all is well and hope to see you soon over at The 405 Club!

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 12:50 am | Permalink
  6. Mr. Noboto wrote:

    We all know the real reason why we’re out of work. Alot of people don’t want to admit it but I think it’s time for us to finally vent and find a solution to getting back to work. Join me to share ideas at:

    Saturday, April 30, 2011 at 3:35 am | Permalink
  7. Excellent Blog !!!!

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Permalink