Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mitchel Stevens’ Guide to Employment and Questions

Editor's Note: The following column is part of an anonymous weekly humor column chronicling the struggle of a new, young journalist out in the working world. You may find the author's previous posts in the archives. --The Ed.

A while back I was sitting at one of those circular conference tables for an interview with the HR woman reading over my impeccable, single-spaced resume.

“I like what I see here, Mitchel,” she said.

After all, who wouldn’t? I read through all the tips. I scoured pages from Lifehacker and Mediabistro. I practice in front of a mirror. I’ve done interviews with politicians, writers, former bosses, phone calls, voice chats, telegrams and even pitches over drinks. I’ve been screamed at, shouted at and can usually turn most conversations around over 20 minutes.

“But I can’t help but notice, you’re a writer.”

Except for this. I looked across the table at HR woman and nodded. Her eyes lifted from my spectacular, god-like resume and settled on me. And we waited. To give you an idea, I just took a break from writing this. I went and got some coffee. Scratched my hand. Leafed through a few spare pages of newspaper I have laying around. Then I came back to this.

“That’s right,” I said. After all, this interview was for an assistant editorial position. The job promised plenty of opportunities for copious busywork, editing, coding, writing minor copy and cleaning up other writers’ pieces, as they’d file in. Nothing too awful for an entry-level position and exactly what I had went to college for.

HR woman sucked in her teeth and then let out a tiny sigh.

“Well, what we’re looking for is an editor. Someone who can pay strict attention to details and sentence structure. Someone who isn’t so concerned with the writing side, but who wants to work in the production side.”

I semi-followed everything she said. After all, don’t you need to start writing in order to learn how to edit? Wouldn’t you need to be concerned with how pieces flow in order to understand individual traits? C’mon, not everything can be as soul-crushingly boring as a Washington Times article.

“Well,” I said, “I was an editor at [UNNAMED COLLEGE PAPER] and I do proof my own work before sending it in, you know.”

“Oh, I do, but you need to understand. We’re looking for someone who is very detail oriented. And you? Well, Mitchel, you’re just a writer. You’re concerned with how the story is just written. We’re looking for someone to be concerned with how the story’s made.”

Mind you, one of the other provisions for this job was to come in weekends, sit at a computer and monitor weather reports. God forbid if my strict attention to detail failed me while glued to a self-refreshing screen every ten minutes.

Suffice to say, I didn’t get the job. But it’s odd, since I’ve run into this same question while interviewing with two other extremely different organizations than the first. I’m not sure if this is an HR ploy used to knock candidates on their ass, or if they’re all so mildly retarded that HR across the land use a hive mind. This is, as my father tells me, a simple get. It’s used to irk a candidate, unease them and force them into an awkward silence. To see if they can think on their feet.

It’s this same get that inspired a generation of do-it-yourselfers who got tired of being pissed on by the same question from HR or dot-coms who realized that there are thousands of writers hungry for work and they can be cannibalized for sub-minimum wage in major cities.

The commercials lie: I hate working from home.

I hate having to bow to companies that can get away with paying me $4.50 to $5 an hour for my words. I hate hearing about stringers and how to get such a position I have to intern at the Times before sending in countless e-mails to deputy editors that purposely pick and choose their favorites to see who’ll jump through the most hoops. I hate having to spend weeks begging for an invoice to pay my bills.

I hate having to be a writer sometimes. Funny enough, people can’t help but notice that about me.


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