I knew that what I was offering my interviewers was pain porn, but playing my audience—especially playing them with a stereotype that had caused me anger and hurt in the past—filled me with delight. The reason I chose this particular lie was that people love the hardworking-immigrant-who-makes-good narrative. During the interviews, as I told my story, I would almost pop out of my chair with nervous exultation. All that this man—it was invariably a man—quite reasonably cared about was whether I could make his life easier by getting work done. ♦ More in this series Business or Pleasure By Chris Ware The Countess’s Private Secretary By Jennifer Egan Brush Clearing with Teen-Age Boys in Arkansas By Richard Ford The Work You Do, the Person You Are By Toni Morrison Business or Pleasure By Chris Ware The Countess’s Private Secretary By Jennifer Egan Brush Clearing with Teen-Age Boys in Arkansas By Richard Ford The Work You Do, the Person You Are By Toni Morrison If there was an open bar at some expensive restaurant during a recruiting event, I’d gleefully debate with the bartender whether I should drink the Johnny Walker Blue or some rare Talisker. I was smart enough to understand that I had got lucky. Finally, one day, I was in New York for a series of interviews and the junior vice-president I was supposed to see was called into a meeting. I started getting callbacks. Inevitably, that person would tell the powers that be, “Hey, this guy is an idiot!,” and I would be rejected. That was the sort of self-pitying, self-aggrandizing wretches we were. I came up with this lie because I was Indian and was used to being seen through stereotypes—used to being asked if I spoke English or if I was studying to be a doctor. I was flown to New York for daylong interviews, in which eventually I would come up against someone who didn’t care about my time at 7-Eleven. Before the lies, the people who interviewed me had rarely revealed what they felt; now they laughed and sighed along with what seemed like recognition, almost as if they were seeing their own hardships in my tales. I had a gift for inventing details. My reason for wanting to be a banker was simple: I was a student at Harvard Law School, and I figured that, instead of working very hard as a corporate lawyer, I might as well work the same amount in finance and make even more money. In my night-shift history, my interviewers would see evidence that I was a tireless employee. To interview with the less prosperous investment banks, we waited in the then mangy hallways of the Sheraton Commander Hotel, in Cambridge. It allows them to feel that they live in a benign, meritocratic world, and to believe, in a back-channel way, that they are deserving of their success. I knew nothing about finance and wasn’t even really clear as to what bankers did; all I knew was that they wore snazzy suits and looked coolly impatient. I’d discuss how scary it was to work nights at a 7-Eleven, how a group of young men would come in and begin stealing and I’d be afraid to confront them. He’d ask about the difference between financial and tax accounting. CreditIllustration by Christoph Niemann
There was no reason for the investment bankers who interviewed me to hire me. I was so excited as I told my stories that I sometimes even half believed them. Usually, the sort of person who asked such questions was an associate or a junior vice-president, who worked closely with the nitty-gritty of financial modelling. After a few interviews in which I saw my interlocutor flick his eyes over my résumé and register that I had no relevant experience, I decided to start lying. When I am nervous, I become giddy and happily talkative. When I got the call, I accepted on the spot. In the hospitality suites, I stationed myself by the sushi platters and offered advice on what was especially delicious. Or I’d describe how many layers of clothing I had to wear as a gas-station attendant during the winter; how hookers would hang out at the gas station to solicit customers; how my clothes smelled of hot dogs by the end of a 7-Eleven shift; how, around four in the morning, the alcoholics showed up to buy beer because they had run out of liquor at home. Many of my fellow-students appeared to be thinking the same thing; as I remember, almost a third of the people I knew who were graduating in my year applied to become bankers. I knew right then that I would be offered the job. Also, bankers work bone-crunching hours. The fact that I knew nothing was immediately clear. He’d ask me what method of valuation could be best massaged to show an earnings-accretive merger in a financial model. I began telling interviewers that throughout high school and much of college I had worked night shifts at 7-Elevens and gas stations. For the bulge-bracket firms, like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, we met in hospitality suites at the Charles and tried to hide our anxiety. “Do you know when I get the signing bonus?” I asked.