I Interviewed at AOL

job interview As an AOL interviewee, I'm in the unusual position of having traveled a roller coaster that has much to do with the current economy: I started as a freelance writer, became a freelance editor, and then became the contracted managing editor of the WalletPop website. I was subsequently got let go, and began freelancing for them again. For all I know, I may wind up back at AOL again as a full-time employee, as I have my hat in the ring for several jobs.

My interviews at AOL came about in a whirlwind of activity during the summer of 2010. I am based in Chicago, and was flown to the Dulles, Va., office for a round of interviews, then went straight from there to AOL's Manhattan office at 770 Broadway, then sat at home and waited for what I thought would be good news.

Here's how it all went down:

An initial "in"

My WalletPop boss, Beth Gladstone, called me one morning with orders to pack a bag and head to Dulles -- quick. Openings in the AOL editorial division were getting hard to come by, and Beth had convinced her higher-ups that she needed a full-time second in command, a managing editor. So off to Dulles I flew and made the rounds of at least half a dozen people, including two company vice presidents. Among the VP's there was Jaime Hammond, who oversaw much of AOL's editorial operation and had great things to say about my performance.

I came away feeling that the conversations were frank and fun, as opposed to rife with the usual booby-trap questions that interviewers often ask. And thanks to my months of freelancing for WalletPop, I came into the interviews as a known commodity.

I remember most clearly the company commissary, with gourmet food and dessert offerings better than you'd find at any mall food court. Being Italian, I love to eat. "I want to work here," I thought as I slurped down a chocolate mousse made in-house by a talented pastry chef.

But whatever time I had to process the interviews faded to black as I repacked my bag and headed to New York. There, Gladstone had assembled a team of AOL editors and editorial employees to ask me questions that I felt were fair and thoughtful: how to handle newsroom conflicts, how to build team spirit, what to do when a crisis of ethics presents itself to a staff member and what makes for great journalism.

I talked to at least half a dozen people that day, including one wonderful woman from human resources who asked me, "What do you think of fun in the workplace?" No one had ever asked me that before. So I told her about my skills with making paper airplanes and propping bowling pins all over my desk. (I own 10 of them, no two the same color.) Her relaxed body language -- hey, she laughed too -- indicated that I had the right answer.

A closing door

At that time, editorial hires in AOL's New York office went all the way up to the CEO, Tim Armstrong. Beth and many of the others I'd talked to made it clear that they were in a race to get my hire through before the gate closed, so to speak, since a hiring freeze looked imminent. So I sat at home in Chicago once the interviews were done, and waited. And waited.

The bad news was that for reasons having nothing to do with my interviews, I would not be hired. But I was offered a contract position at the same proposed pay, which would last through November 2010. I jumped at it and did my job faithfully until the contract expired -- and management indicated that it would not be renewed.

By no means would I represent a disgruntled interviewee or AOL refugee with any ax to grind. Far from it. I very much enjoyed my interviews with AOL; I thought they were direct and simple. No promises were made that were broken. Later, I found the working environment as a contract employee to be as collegial and cooperative as I could hope for. And I still root for the company to do well -- which may explain why I'm working in all sorts of AOL venues, from Spinner to Paw Nation, though at this point as a freelancer.

Looking back at those heady AOL interviews seems a bit surreal now; I work at home, often in my sweats, or at coffee shops where no one cares if espresso dribbles down my chin. Would I interview at AOL again? In a heartbeat. Let's just say I have my hat in the ring for about half a dozen jobs in New York.

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