“Can I Get You Anything?”

It was very hot today when I attended a networking meeting for professionals who are looking for jobs. The room was warm, cooled only by ceiling fans, and we discussed our professional identities and shared whatever information and connections we could. At some point though, I started thinking about Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame.

I’ve never actually read the Victor Hugo novel, but I’ve seen a couple of movie adaptations. What I remember most from one of them is when Quasi (Anthony Hopkins), unjustly accused of some heinous crime, is being harangued and harassed by the townspeople when he receives a drink of water from the seductive Gypsy girl Esméralda (Lesley-Anne Down). He rejoices in this drink. “She gave me water! She gave me water!” he repeats again and again, like some sort of crazy mantra, as they cart him off to prison for whatever it is he is accused of having done.

A strange train of thought, yes, but it was connected to a job interview I had on a similarly hot day a month or so ago. I had driven more than a half hour to this office, arrived on time, and waited past the assigned time for the CEO to send for me. Eventually he came out himself, and after we shook hands in the lobby he turned to the thermostat on the wall and adjusted it, muttering, “Everyone messes with this thing,” and then led me back to a meeting room with a large window facing directly into the sun and with an ambient temperature that had to be at least 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike the CEO, I was wearing a tie and blazer despite the fact that the day called for layers of no more than a t-shirt and the hair on my chest.

The CEO sat down across the table and started with some chit-chat before launching into his questions.

The first question I really, really wanted to hear was, “Can I get you anything? Water?”

Alas, that was not the question. I spent the next hour dry-mouthedly answering questions about a job that ultimately would not have been a good fit for me. I am not surprised that I never heard from the company again. I don’t hold that against them.

But it was warm in the office, I had driven quite a ways, I was thirsty, and he did not offer me a drink.

One of my favorite bosses was a guy named Don. A big man, an imposing presence, some might say domineering, even daunting. But when we had an interview scheduled—for a staff job, an internship, or even just a freelance contract gig—he always made sure: “Do we have enough water in the fridge? Let’s get some ice tea, too, just in case,” and one of us would grab a bill from the petty cash box and go down to the shop next door and get what we needed. Don always wanted to make a good impression. It was his way of saying, This is how we treat one another around here.

And when the candidate arrived and hands had been shaken, the first question was, “Can I get you anything? Water? Ice tea?”

It goes both ways, this hospitality and human relations thing. I worked on a book several years ago about business practices. When it came to hiring, this author said that once he had narrowed the field down to the final two or three candidates, he took each of them out to lunch. They went to the busiest greasy-spoon diner in town, in the middle of the lunch rush. Whatever the candidates said about, and how they related to, the waiter or waitress, was key to his final decision on the hire. It’s not likely that he hired too many smart-asses or snooty-noses who expected the undivided attention of the waitress.

I suppose we can’t be Esméralda to every Quasimodo out there, but if it’s in your power to inquire, “Can I get you a glass of water?”, it would be a good idea to ask.

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