About a month ago, I celebrated my year anniversary at my current position. Yes, I brought in bagels. Did you even have to ask?
A year was a good milestone, though, especially in this economy. I know this firsthand, since my last job abruptly ceased to be after 7 months, due to an inability to pay me and a bunch of other people.
Luckily for me, 7 months has been my shortest tenure anywhere since moving up from "temp," with 7 years being my longest. It turns out that technically, there's no itch after 7 years. Someone lied to me.
In that time, I've only ever been officially unemployed twice, once for 2 months, once for 3 weeks. Everyone always says, "Three weeks! That's like a vacation!" Yes, if you generally enjoy a vacation filled with equal parts fear and panic. I'm sure the survivors of the Titanic rarely reminisced about how beautiful the night sky was as they sat in the rowboats.
Despite my recent good luck, however, what with the jobless numbers being what they are, and the economy being what it is, I know people who are out of work or underemployed. In fact, I have one friend who had to go down to Florida recently to train the people who will be taking over his job once the company moves out of New York. How demeaning is that? I hope he screwed with them a lot: "It's imperative that you log every logo you see on a NASCAR vehicle and the drivers' helmets. Every logo."
Anyway, while I've more or less lost count over the years of how many job interviews I've actually had, I have kept in mind a couple nuggets of knowledge, learned lessons, admixtures of advice, if you will (yeah, a bit of an alliterative stretch, I admit), regarding things to do and not to do after shaking the hand and sitting down in front of the desk of the person who holds your future in the balance.
Dickens has nothing on me.
These are all true stories. Some of the details have been changed because I lost a lot of brain cells in 2008.
DON'T assume that the young guy sitting across from you doesn't have a gigantic pole up his ass.
I had an interview once, straight out of grad school, to do some sort of editing for a trade publication on running shoes (I think). The interviewer looked to be maybe two years older than I, dressed fairly casually, now that I think about it, in running shoes. It was also pretty obvious to me early on that he had no idea how to hold a job interview. After 10 minutes, I was willing to bet that he had spent the half-hour before I came in memorizing questions from "Job Interviews for Dummies." The line of questioning was so text book, I was almost repeating the queries along with him.
"What kind of boss would you say you have the most trouble with?" "Why do you want to work here?" etc. Until he came to, "Your resume says you were a political science major in college. Why did you choose political science?"
And I'm thinking, "Really? I have a Master's degree in journalism. This is a publication about sneakers. Of course my undergraduate degree in an unrelated field is the most important thing you could ask me right now."
So I answered, "Well, all the cool kids were doing it."
"... ... ... ... and I had taken a couple classes my freshman year and found them fascinating... ." Too late. Damage done. Not only did I never hear from the publication, but I'm pretty sure I never heard from the recruiter who sent me on that interview in the first place again either.
DO everything in your power to send a thank you note.
I know this seems like a no-brainer, but I was on a job interview in recent years where I sat for nearly an hour with an interviewer, but he didn't have a card. The following day, I got on the company's Web site, found the e-mail address for someone else in a completely different part of the company, and figured out what his e-mail address might be. Actually, I sent a note to three different iterations of the address, just in case.
Not only was I called back for a second and third interview, but when I ran into the guy at bar later on, he confided in me that I was the only person they interviewed who even bothered to send them a thank you note. Ultimately, they couldn't pay the salary I was asking, but I know they didn't pass on me because I was too conscientious. If they're reading this now, I hope they realize they passed on someone who could correctly spell conscientious. Twice.
DON'T go to a job interview the day after you drink too much at your brother's engagement party.
All I have to say about this one is I may have smelled like a brewery. And I now know the answer to "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" is not "In a room exactly like this one."
For what it's worth, maybe the lesson here is just don't drink too much at your brother's engagement party. Oh, and in this particular case, don't piss off the NCJW. I think they're the ones heading up the conspiracy to keep me single.
DO form a bond, if you can, with your interviewer.
My first serious job out of college was as an assistant to a Harvard professor. Really, Harvard. School of Government. Not only did I learn a great deal that year about diplomacy and the behind-the-scenes working of an Ivy League institution, but I learned firsthand an even greater deal about alopecia.
The hair's grown back, thanks.
Despite the actual travails of the job, there was a single moment during the interview when I knew I had it. I think we'd been talking about the band Phish - his son had turned him on to their music - when I mentioned that the first real concert I ever saw was Sha Na Na. His eyes lit up. "I was in a high school band with their piano player," he said.
And I knew the piano player's name. That's a bond.
"Screamin'" Scott Simon, by the way.
DON'T do the interviewer's job for him.
I was once recommended for a copy editing position at a trade publishing company. I met with a very nice woman, a managing editor, I believe, who talked to me for a while about the various publications the company produced, about their being a leader in their field of reporting, about the sense of camaraderie in the office, about the founder of the company, about my responsibilities as copy editor. At no point in time did the question of my ability to edit actually come up.
There was no editing test. There was no proofreading exam. There was no, "Have you done anything like this before?" I chose not to point any of these things out. I was hired the next day.
DO research the company beforehand.
I was asked a few years ago, "What part of our Web site did you like the best?"
Picture Bambi with an 18-wheeler bearing down on him. Now picture me sitting in the passenger seat of that 18-wheeler being asked a question I didn't know the answer to. "I, um, thought the whole thing looked really good."
I did not get the job. I'm not even sure if they had a Web site.
DON'T let your ignorance of the subject matter be the reason you aren't hired.
I have noticed in my industry, as well as those of many of my friends, that a large part of the hiring procedure is "Will he be good to work with?" (i.e., Is he pleasant? Does he seem to have a good work ethic? What do his former coworkers say about him? Will he bring bagels to work for his one-year anniversary here?) The secret, in fact, is often to appear as though you can do the job without having any preconceived notions about the job. Who would you rather supervise: someone who you can train to do the job right or someone who insists on doing the job their way? Malleable is very often preferable to rigid. As true in job hunting as it is in the Pay-Doh hair salon.
I'm not saying you should apply for a position at JP Morgan if you're still not entirely clear on the difference between econ and home ec. But I am saying it's important to learn three simple words: fast learning curve. As in, "Well, I don't have any specific knowledge of the drug store industry, but I have a pretty fast learning curve. I didn't know anything about the oil and gas industry and I was at that job for years." That totally worked.
DO leave them wanting more.
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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7.16.10 @ 5:07p
Man, this is so, so, so dead on. You need to post this where every young professional can see it.
And more than a few adults. I've interviewed some knuckleheads, lemmee tell ya.
7.16.10 @ 5:28p
We had a guy once send in a resume containing, at the top where the Objective would normally go, a poem.