Working it

I’m a job ad voyeur.

Even when I’m happily and gainfully employed, I look. I can’t help it. I think it comes from many years of freelancing. Knowing there were open positions with benefits and vacation days was reassuring. The potential existed to escape cranny clients and 70-hour weeks.

Considering that good chunk of my career has been spent either working for myself or working for advertising agencies and communications firms—meaning I’ve spent a lot of time in presentations, basically a show-and-tell kind of interview, you’d think I’d be good at them. I’m not. And it’s not get the job jitters, I’m not comfortable on either side of the table, as interviewee or interviewer.

Part of the problem is that they simply aren’t a good way for either party to get to know each other. Too much idealism, sometimes too much desperation. Too, I’ve always suspected that being good at answering typical interview questions doesn’t necessarily make someone a good worker. Just good at working it. Skilled in having a set of pat responses you expect the interviewer wants to hear.

Q: “Tell me about one of your weaknesses?”

A: “Well, I have to admit, I am a bit of a perfectionist workaholic …”

Really? Do people actually believe that sort of suck-up nonsense? If so, I’m buying stock in Chapstick.

I admit to having had a lot of jobs—proof, perhaps, that I’ve actually succeeded at some interviews. I’ve worked on my own, in small communications firms, the largest ad agency in town and client-side for both small businesses and large ones. The fact that I still use the term “client-side” demonstrates my indoctrination in agency life. Working on my own brought in the most cash (and the most hours), agency-side was the most exciting and fun, often in a droll, gallows-humor kind of way, and large corporations get you the most goodies but generally have the most side effects.

I’ve had my present position for coming on to six years; eight years at the same place of business. I have friends who call me from time to time, just to see if I’m still there. I think there was a pool on how long I’d last and nobody won. Sometimes it does seem strange to still be there because when I worked in advertising, the prevailing thought (in a era when you could quit one job, cross the street and get another) was that staying in a job longer than a couple years meant you were getting stale.

I have been asked some absolutely goony questions on interviews. But oddly enough, the whacky world of advertising was not where these situations occurred. Creative directors are busy people under pressure who want to know one thing – can you do great work? They don’t care if you’re a serial arsonist or a practicing druid as long as your book is decent (and not cribbed from someone else) and you show up for meetings and make deadlines. Before my time in advertising, I worked for a magazine and a few places in the publishing industry. I had a degree in writing and a list of publishing credits that dated back from when I was 14. Getting gigs was never a problem.

The truly wacky questions came from the “corporations.”

There seems to be a growing trend that interviews are more about the candidate’s personal philosophies and propensity toward submission than whether or not they can actually do the job. That explains a lot, doesn’t it? This sort of approach slays me—I almost went catatonic in an interview in which I wasn’t allowed to bring in my portfolio. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. Not that I’m particularly difficult, perpetually late or wear cut-offs and tank tops to meetings, but I believe to some degree that who I am as a person is what a company accepts in order to get at my skills. I am dedicated to my profession as a writer, but my commitment is to my reputation; I want to do well regardless of I’m practicing that profession at the time. There’s also the fact that my working class parents (one pro, one con union) instilled in me the belief that we work to live, not live to work. And it stuck. My labor may be for sale, but not who I am as a person.

I also have to point out that I haven’t been on a job interview in a long time, but I’ve asked around. Seems the “whole person” approach is stronger than ever. Back when I was dealing with these types of interviews, my inside voice would make up snappy answers to the pompous, asinine questions that had nothing to do with the daily tasks that would be expected of me. So below are some questions and a comment or two—and the responses I felt most appropriate—or at least the most honest—at the time. If you’re preparing for an interview, you’re free to use any of the answers I’ve suggested. If you do, let me know how that goes. I’ve always wondered what you would happen if someone spoke them aloud.

C: We’re non-hierarchical around here. And I have a total open-door policy.

R: Good thing since you seem to be the only one here WITH a door.

Q: Do you share my vision?

A: Dunno. I can have my optometrist call yours.

Q: X Corporation is on the precipice of changing the world as we know it. Can you deal with that?

A: Snicker.

(X Corporation tanked two weeks later, thankfully before a decision on the position was made. I suppose that did change the world, at least for those employed there.)

Q: We expect all our staff to be in perfect alignment.

A: So the benefit plan DOES cover a chiropractor?

C: We’d like you to write this brochure as a test. If we like it, we’ll use. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the job.

R: Not a problem. I bill out at $100/hr. Including travel time.

C: You write very well. For a girl.

R: *%^&@# Jerk.

Q: We have a plan for world domination. Does that excite you?

A: Not half as much as your dental plan.

Q: Are you driven by quality?

A: No, actually I’m a big fan of the jerry-rigged, half-assed and mediocre. That’s why I’m here!


2 Comments on “Working it”

  1. notquiteold says:

    I worked for a long time for a big, successful, and powerful corporation. I once attended a meeting at a tiny entrepreneurial company that was looking for a little investor money. The first question that came out of my boss’s mouth: “So what is our path to control?” The two idealistic owners were crushed. End of meeting.

  2. Stephen McGill says:

    Wonderful post Joy! Although I have not been in a job interview for decades, I can relate based on some of the ridiculous meetings I have had over the years with potential clients. It still amazes me that people expect us to “try out” for a gig. In those situations now I often quote Kevin Costner in Bull Durham… “give it to the kid, I don’t try out.”

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