Re: Jobs/archetypal anecdotes and nitty-gritty advice

Wade Tarzia (tarzia@UCONNVM.UCONN.EDU)
Sat, 12 Oct 1996 11:03:03 -0400

>...Recently she was turned down for an
>assistant editor spot on a house organ at a university. The reason? She
>had no experience with Page Maker. My wife could learn Page Maker (or just
>about any software) in a week or less. How many people can make up for her
>experience as a writer and editor (not to mention her education) by
>knowing >Page Maker?

--- This sort of thing is VERY common in my trade (technical writing).
When I was laid off a few years and seeking work, I was passed over for
many jobs because I was a Macintosh person vs. DOS, or knew PageMaker
instead of Pagepress, or MS Word instead of WordPerfect. I was also passed
over for jobs because my trade had been in writing about rockets and jets
rather than computers (bad excuse, given that I would not be asked to build
these things, merely straighten out sentences and paragraphs *about*
them!). I lost one job because I was working on my PhD ("You won't be
happy here..." True, but I wouldn't be happy in most jobs, and I do have
to eat!) With business-type jobs, the thinking is that there are enough
desperate people in the world that they will be able to find that one
person who wants a job and has a whole list of silly specifics to replace
the exact skills of the out-going employee. Too true, often.

Another problem: Businesses seem more willing nowadays to hire employees
with far less education than before. When I was hired in my first tech
writing job, the company required an MA or a BA with some years of
experience. Many other companies asked for the same. Yet 8 years later
when I was back on the job market, I interviewed at a firm where one of my
potential co-workers had an associates degree and had taken ONE course in
technical writing, which was the basis for having been hired. At yet
another firm, the person intervewing me was worried about people with
graduate degrees, period. (I didn't learn this until much later when I met
a person who had worked at this place).

So you have to be careful about the way in which you explain your
background. I am lucky in that I do not have to report my PhD -- I worked
on it while I was employed full-time, so there is no gap in my record if I
pull it off my resume (to keep back information is not lying, after all,
and few will ask, "So do you have a PhD?"). For business interviews, let
your resume do the 'damage'. Don't seem as if you think your degree means
*everything*. Business is more interested in results, in what you have
done and can do regarding the job in question. And despite the
authoritarian and hierarchical nature of business, the surface ideology in
the office is egalitarianism -- if you go in saying, "Hi, I'm Dr. Smith"
well then, you've just blown the interview, most likely. If they introduce
you as Dr. Smith to others in the hiring group, say, "Please call me
Sally." And know of course that in many cases your supervisors will have
had stopped at the BA/BS and climbed the ladder from there (though this is
increasingly rarer as people get all those MBAs!). In the interview, just
explain the skills you have (writing, analysis, statistics,
people-training, etc.) and try to avoid saying, "Well I have an MA so
therefore I have all these skills, etc." Let the interviewers bring up
your education, and then feel out how comfortable they are about it.

On the other hand, be prepared beforehand for diplomatic explanations of
how your education has prepared you for a job. Some of you may have that
as your primary experience if have gone straight through college from age
18 through 26, etc. And imagine the worst questions you can get -- "You
have an MA and seem too educated for this job, why would I think you'd be
happy here editing our toy catalog?" etc. Remember, they might want you
for the job but are testing you! Memorize the answers to such questions so
you will merge right into the interview without a blink!

Of course, when I went for my first three college interviews last year, I
was passed over for the second rounds partly because of the few
publications I had on my vita -- a mix of research, essay, and fiction --
perfectly fine for a job in English, I had always been taught! I assume
that I was too enthusiastic about how my writing experience could be
applied to teaching writing (since they *had* brought me in for those first
interviews after all). But I heard, "You're too much of a writer, and we
want a 100% teacher." This from a community college. Oh, excuuuse me,
such a sin, that I could show students that I practice what I teach. ;-)
The 4-year college said, "You have an excellent research record [ he could
only have said this from the viewpoint of a college where few people have
time to publish a lot ] so what would stop you from leaving our 4+4
teaching load job and jumping ship for Yale if they offered a job?" Sir, I
cannot tell a lie. "Nothing!" I said. "Nothing would stop me! I'd pull
that ejection handle and punch out faster than you could say "2+2 teaching
load, here I come! Ha, ha, ha, ha!" So I burned my bridge, OK? All was
lost; go out with style!

Really, though, here's some good advice: for community college and 4-year
college interviews, dumb down your vita to two or three pages, i.e., try
to find a balance between totally submerging your publications and
conference papers and presenting a long list of them that will show (gack!)
that you sctually *like* to write and research. Oops, I had better qualify
-- Have a minimum of four vitas, assuming you have a PhD and are seeking
any job for the time being, the best and the fall-backs -- a 7-pager
(whatever) for universities, a 4 pager for colleges, two pager for
community colleges, and a 1 to 2 pager for business-type jobs. My
experience was sadly consistent across 3 interviews, but still, these could
represent idiosyncratic results. But I think if you look like you could
jump ship to Yale, then they will believe you will in a year or two or
three. (And good luck, keep that parachute strapped tight and ready).

For corporate jobs requiring dumb skills you know you could master in a
week, I hate to suggest that you lie, but I don't have to -- I bought a
little book called DOS in 10 Minutes, or something. So I could say, "Yes,
I can run a DOS computer!" And I could, with a little peek now and then.
Same for Windows, etc. Spend $40 dollars and get some of the after-market
guides at a store such as Staples, and you're ready for a lot of
office-clone work.

A long post full of perhaps unwelcome and paternalistic advice, but I've
had the chance to make 12 years worth of mistakes, which may be worth
something! --wade