Job interview is hard work

Kevin Cowherd

May 08, 1991|By Kevin Cowherd

THIS IS certainly an unnerving time of year for you college graduates, as you prepare for that first job interview and the requisite toadying and wild exaggeration of your abilities that the occasion requires.

Let me tell you a little story about my first job interview, which will either serve to reassure you or plunge you into the same gray, shapeless depression that enveloped me at the time.

My first interview was with the ferret-faced managing editor of a medium-sized daily newspaper in New York.

I was 23, jittery and showing alarming signs of being an embarrassment to society well into adulthood. When I arrived in his office, the temperature was 110 degrees, the windows were closed and the M.E. (a little journalism lingo there) was puffing on a cigar the size of a billy club.

Even before I could drop to my knees and buff his shoes with the rag I carried in my back pocket, he barked: "Why do you want this reporter's job?"

"Well, Your Worship," I said, "I want the job because I have no money, and this lack of money is causing me all sorts of problems, as Your Immenseness can no doubt appreciate."

Anyway, the interview took 15 minutes before I stumbled out in a swirl of cigar smoke and another applicant (a vacant-eyed young woman, as I recall) was ushered in.

The bottom line was that I didn't get the reporter's job. It went to the dim-witted niece of one of the editors, a woman who couldn't write a lick (he said graciously) but who, when asked why she wanted the job, delivered a syrupy speech about learning the noble craft of journalism, advancing the public's right to know and blah blah blah.

So what exactly am I saying here?

Am I saying that initiative, a solid resume and a willingness to work hard count for nothing these days?

Am I saying that most companies are riddled with nepotism and cronyism, and populated by servile bootlickers who climb the corporate ladder by parroting whatever line of pap it is that management wants to hear?

Yes, that is exactly what I'm saying. And don't you forget it. However, in the unlikely event that your first job interview is on the up and up and not merely a smoke screen for hiring some big shot's relative, it pays to follow this advice:

* Arrive on time. Nothing is more distressing to an employer than to have a job applicant arrive 20 minutes late for an interview mumbling some fantastic story about a flat tire and an aunt dying, as I understand a certain editor's niece did 15 years ago. Puh-leaze. Of course, that lame excuse didn't seem to hurt her too much, did it? No, I guess not.

* Dress neatly. Appearances are enormously important. I recall one young woman (a certain editor's niece, as a matter of fact) who arrived for her interview in a silk blouse with a plunging neckline and a skirt cut up to here and enough make-up to keep a bordello in operation for a year. You men might want to wear a nice sport coat and tie. Not that it matters. You see all the good it did me.

* Look the interviewer in the eye. Then I guess you might want to bat your fake eyelashes and gush in this breathless voice about how much you always wanted to work for the company, how you admire the boss so and how, if you don't get the job, why, your Uncle Billy who runs the night copy desk will be so-o-o disappointed!

* Be alert. If the interview is scheduled for early in the morning, it is probably not a good idea to stay out until 2 the night before swilling beer out of someone's cowboy boot in a small wharf-side saloon with an older man named "Ken," as I understand a certain editor's niece did some years ago.

* Do not exaggerate your credentials. When applying for a job as a, oh, newspaper reporter, it is not considered good form to mention (in this embarrassing Marilyn Monroe voice, no less) that you are also a medical doctor and could "save some lives around here" in the event of an emergency. Believe it or not, I know of a young woman (who, by the way, could barely work a stapler) who actually said this in an interview years ago.

* Don't despair if you fail to get the job. Remember, this is only your first job interview. And maybe next time you won't be competing (ha! that's a good one) against some devious little tramp who wouldn't know a good lead paragraph if it bit her in the face.

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