Editor’s Note: The following technical writing humor piece by Lisa Higgins is part of our collection of “classics”–technical writing articles that stand the test of time no matter how many technologies come and go. Lisa wrote the “From the Sidelines” column back at the turn of the century, and her humorous take on all things technical writing rings true more than a decade later.
Job Interviews: So What if I Drive an Old Beato-matic Volvo?!
I think I have finally figured out interviews. People doing interviews are clever, calculating, and psychic, and they know I drove in an old beato-matic Volvo with no glove compartment. (Actually, it does have a glove compartment, but it’s in the trunk right now.) Interviewers ask tricky questions, they have ulterior motives, and they see directly into your soul.
I know this because I’ve gone to a lot of interviews, and I’m getting to the point where I don’t even have very many of those cartoon sweat droplets*flying out of my head during them.
I figure this makes me a sage elder of interviewing, so now I’m going to tell you all about my fancy tricks for not being a spaz in interviews!
OK. So they’re not that fancy, really. But I only just figured them out, so humor me.
Stop reading if you know these already:
- Don’t go to interviews for jobs you won’t take anyway.
- Trick interviewers into giving you reasons you don’t want to work for them.
- Tell little white lies about “difficult situations.”
- Tell big white lies about why you quit or want to quit.
Probably the most important aspect of a job search in general, and one I haven’t completely gotten the hang of yet, is weeding out companies and jobs I’m not interested in.
I started my career during an ugly economic time, and there were times when I was practically begging for jobs. But due in part to the current obscenely overfatted economic climate, and in part to the fact that I’ve got a lot more experience now, I’m not really in that boat anymore. I have some savings, I have a job, and I can bend my arms the wrong way and blow about six bubble gum bubbles each one inside the last, so I can always fall back on that.
Usually, when I’m out interviewing for a new job, it’s because I want a new job. I want a job that’s more interesting, pays more, or is more fulfilling in some way than my current job. I haven’t been really desperate in a while, and acting like I am isn’t really in my better interests. So I make an effort not to go into an interview trying to get the job at all costs. If someone asks me how my copyediting skills are, I tell them that they’re good, but I find it difficult to concentrate on copyediting for any extended period of time because it’s boring. I really don’t want a copyediting job, and scoring a big copyediting job would pretty much suck for me. I’m not out to trick someone into giving me a job I’d hate. But I have to keep reminding myself of this.
I ask a lot of questions about corporate culture, too, because work takes up a lot of my time, and I have no interest in spending most of my waking hours in an environment that makes me uncomfortable. For me, that means I avoid companies that seem to take too much interest in their employees’ private lives. I’m fairly introverted (no, really!), and the forced socialization of mandatory company parties and teamwork exercises are exhausting and humiliating to me. Other people like those things. I say, “YAY! Please go take all those jobs so I don’t end up with one of them!”
So I ask lots of questions, without letting on what I want the answer to be.
Me: Do you have beverages available on site?
Interviewer: Why, yes, we do!
Me: HA HA! I HATE BEVERAGES! LUZER!
Once I’ve decided I want a job, I start getting really nervous, though, which makes it a little harder to answer the hard questions.
One that’s been hard for me in the past is the “Describe a difficult work situation you’ve had in the past and how you handled it.”
See, I once worked at a job where I had to have friends escort me to my car because I was being followed by an unbalanced coworker. I worked at another company where my annual review started off with my boss telling me that the CEO was a legman, and I really needed to wear shorter skirts if I wanted to be successful.
But, I figure, what’s the point in talking about that? When an interviewer asks me how I’ve dealt with difficult work situations in the past, I assume that they’re trying to determine how I’ll deal with their environment. And, starry-eyed idealist that I am, I further assume that they’re not knowingly employing stalkers and slobbering, beady-eyed perverts.
So I tell them little stories about busy engineers who had a hard time finding time to give me information, and about good managers who got in a little over their heads. That’s about the level of ‘difficult work situation’ that I’ll tolerate these days, so that’s what I’ll discuss with them. I figure if they’re planning to terrorize me and make obscene phone calls, I’ll let it be a surprise how I’ll deal with the situation.
The “why did you leave?” question is subtly different. Obviously, I’ve been involved with some hostile work environments, and I assume a lot of us have. And I’ve happily burned a few bridges over it, too. And yes, sometimes someone asks me one of those questions that I can’t back out of, and I have to criticize a former employer. I try not to go on and on. I’ve never told the stalking story in an interview, for example. The best solution I’ve come up with for talking about really yucky jobs is to remind myself that there are masochists and disturbed people in the world, and maybe one of those guys would have liked being followed to his car and getting obscene phone calls from mouthbreathing coworkers.
“Why did I leave Open Hostility Software? Well, I felt that the company’s goals and environment weren’t the best for me. I needed more challenge, and I wanted an opportunity to find a company that was a better fit for my skills, my talents, and my temperament, and I want to find out if this company is the right fit.” It’s kind of true, probably. I have read in magazines that some people have to pay other people to humiliate them. Maybe one of those guys got my old job! The best thing about this answer is that it makes me look so non-judgemental, so honest, and so darned reasonable! Pretty sneaky, huh?
Oh, and my greatest weakness is probably the fact that I know exactly how to answer that question, but cannot make it come out of my mouth. My second biggest weakness is either cynicism or an inordinate fondness for postmodernism.
*This is true: Those sweat droplets are called “plewds.”