When job interviews can become an intimate business

JOB INTERVIEWS are like dates. Both sides try to put on their most impressive facades to woo each other, while keeping enthusiasm within the bounds of propriety.

In fact, in the Indian tradition of arranged marriages, dates are almost exactly like job interviews:

"As you can see from my genealogy and astrological charts, which I've enclosed, I think I would be a terrific candidate to be your wife."

"I've read them, thanks. And I see from your resume that you have absolutely no experience, which is excellent."

I'm exaggerating, of course. For one thing, in that tradition, the suitors' families do almost all the arranging. My parents met and checked each other out while chaperoned by their families. My mom vetoed all the other choices that her family offered her, my dad did the same with his other potential brides, and here I am.

Sometimes I'd rather have that system for jobs. If I were a hotshot executive or a Hollywood star, then my agent could take care of the boring job-finding chores, simply presenting me with opportunities to take or decline as I pleased.

But recently I had a job interview experience so lavish and decadent that I nearly forgot my social class.

To a frequent flyer accustomed to economy travel, business class is a disorienting thrill. My feet weren't quite sure what to do with themselves when legroom stretched past my wiggling toes.

I sort of missed the comforting coach cocoon of chairs and bodies, but I soon got over my dismay. The flight attendants offered me an eyemask, earplugs, a portable DVD player with tastefully chosen movies and TV shows and endless booze and snacks with nary a mention of prices.

Instead of a hermetically sealed plastic tub of cafeteria food, I got cafeteria food served in several courses on real china, with metal utensils (save the gray plastic knife that closely resembled steel).

A driver picked me up at the airport, leading me to a black car equipped with teensy bottles of water and a fresh newspaper. Perfect for an executive or a poodle who's been cooped up too long!

He drove me to a four-star hotel, where I checked into a room so beautifully designed that I couldn't find the light switch for the chandelier.

Here is proof that I will never be sophisticated: I called up a bunch of friends to brag about the hotel room. It had a flat-screen TV and a bathroom with a tub next to a shower and a white-noise generator next to the unbelievably comfortable bed. I was, for that hour, more excited about the hotel room than I was about the job interview.

I learned from the in-room literature that my minibar contained an "intimacy kit." Somehow I doubt that this kit contained an inflatable psychologist to help couples break down their emotional barriers.

In that clean, white, tasteful room, the "intimacy kit" was the only hint that people are social animals, that the tenant's conception of heaven could include contact with people other than the waiters for room service.

After all, the whole point of luxury in business travel — private hotel room, private car, private seat in business class — is to avoid unwanted intimacy.

But then, once you enter the conference room, a job interview is an attempt at instant intimacy. That's why "Tell me about yourself" is such a difficult request: It demands an instant articulation of the implicit. "What is your greatest weakness?" is a breathtakingly audacious question. It takes me months to get comfortable enough with my friends to speak directly about our flaws.

I dressed my flaws up as strengths; that's what you do. I primped and prepared more for that job interview than I ever have for a date. I role-played practice questions, read up on the history of the company and got my friends to gird my confidence.

And, just as on a date, perhaps I felt more of an urge to impress the potential partner who'd thoughtfully planned and paid for such a lavish experience.

I'd never been wooed like this before! And so, caught off guard, I wooed the company back, successfully.

I guess I'm headed for the altar. Anyone have an intimacy kit?

Columnist Sumana Harihareswara will soon be moving from the Bay Area to start her new job in New York City, where she plans to continue writing MC Masala. You can e-mail her at sumana@crummy.com.