I Interviewed at Coca-Cola

Diane Petty Coke Years ago, I was moving to a new area and had already bought a house. I had worked in sales, but did not currently have a job and I was desperate to find something, anything, as long as it was stable.

When a former client who had worked for Coca-Cola suggested I should apply and gave me a name to contact, I was on a mission. What could be more stable than working for the most recognized brand name in the world?

I called Coca-Cola's human resources department. They were very snooty and said I was not eligible for a sales position because I did not have any beverage experience. Apparently, they prefer to hire people who have sold beer, wine or Pepsi. Ridiculous, I thought; how hard could it be to sell Coca-Cola? Everyone knows what Coca-Cola is. I was so mad that they did not even want to give me an interview, I promised myself I would get a job there, no matter what it took. I wanted to prove them wrong.

I decided to try calling the contact name given to me by my former client. The contact was the vice president of the Western U.S. region. I wrote him letters telling him I had loads of sales experience and selling Coca-Cola would be easy for me. I said I would wash the Coca-Cola trucks and sweep the warehouse floors for free; I just wanted a chance. I FedExed my resume to him numerous times, knowing that he was required to personally sign for the package. I left him messages begging for an interview. I got to know his secretary. I found out when he was in town and when he was traveling. I felt like a stalker.

Eventually, my persistence paid off. One day the VP answered his phone, gave me a name in HR, and told me to use his name to get an interview. Then he hung up on me.

The interview

The next time I called the head of HR, she was so sweet and acted as if we were long-lost friends. She could not wait to meet me and set up an interview for the following week. To prepare for the interview, I read every book I could about the history of the Coca-Cola Company. I bought a conservative, navy pin-striped skirt suit and got my nails done. I put a few hard copies of my resume in my new briefcase. I figured I had better do everything I could to look the part of a bright, smart, and hard-working potential new hire. I felt extremely confident. I was ready.

I was greeted at the front desk by a friendly receptionist. She had my name on her list. She remembered I was the one constantly calling, always asking for the VP. She remembered I had been very nice, polite and chatty with her whenever I called. I had such a good feeling going into my interview!

The interview, however, did not go well. The senior VP of HR and her lackey met me in a small office and asked me perfunctory questions about my background and my sales experience for half an hour. They were formal and professional, and it was obvious they were just being polite. This was a courtesy interview to appease the big boss. Apparently the head of HR does not like it when her boss tells her whom to interview.

Drinking three Diet Cokes a day does not count as "beverage experience." Having a law degree and seven years of commissioned sales experience was not helping my case. They wanted nothing to do with me. I had just about given up hope when the bigshot VP I had been stalking barged into my interview. He shouted, "This is the most persistent, pushy person I have ever met. If we don't hire her, Pepsi will and then we're screwed." And then he stomped off. I guess it did not hurt that the receptionist I had made friends with over the phone had gone to tell him, "THAT girl is here."

After six months of phone calls, Fed-Exed resumes, stalking and a mandatory drug test, I got the job.

I started out in sales and eventually moved into a management position, supervising a 40-person sales team that I hired myself.

I became the interviewer

I hired former car salespeople and real estate agents who were used to working straight commission. Being paid a salary with benefits to sell Coca-Cola was a dream job for them. I hired a girl who had worked for the Disney Company as a greeter because she was really nice and outgoing. During a personal shopping trip to buy a hot tub at Costco, the salesman was so persistent and friendly, trying to sell me planter boxes and steps that I did not want, I asked him if he wanted a job. He pulled his resume out of the display hot tub and I hired him on the spot.

When making my hiring decisions, I had to determine if the candidate would make a good impression on a customer and whether or not they would fit into the corporate culture of the Coca-Cola Company. I did not hire the girl whose tooth kept falling out during the interview. I did not hire the fellow who told me how desperately he needed benefits the minute he sat down to interview. I did not hire the girl who wore gobs of makeup, a short skirt and high spiked heels to the interview. And I did not hire the guy who took over at the beginning of the interview and started asking me questions.

Do you want to work for Coca-Cola?

If you want to get a job at Coca-Cola, I would urge you talk directly to a Coca-Cola truck driver or sales rep stocking the shelves at your local Safeway or Walmart store. Ask them for the name of their manager. Call the manager and ask if they are hiring. Be friendly and persistent. Do not let them steer you back to HR. Managers want to know their employees really want to be on the job. Just keep asking for a chance.

If you do manage to land an interview, have your suit cleaned and laid out the night before. Show up for the interview early, well-rested and relaxed. Smile and be positive and outgoing. Bring extra copies of your resume. And, finally, make sure any false teeth are well-secured.

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