The curse of being interesting
Honestly, I rarely tryto be interesting. I actually like to be in the background. Even though I speak in front of people, present classes every week and have danced in front of hundreds of people, I secretly like working in obscurity, which makes my writing habit an excellent fit for me. However, I have made some non-standard life choices.
It all started out normal: I got married right out of college and had three children within five years. I was a stay-at-home mom. I converted to Catholicism and I followed all their rules for a good eight years.
But after a while, the façade started to wear out and the real me started to poke through the thin spots. I started writing again, and the writing led me to evaluate my life. I wasn’t exactly happy. I went back to graduate school at about 30, while I still had three young kids. I got a job as a bartender to pay for my tuition.
Eventually, my marriage wore out, too. When my ex and I split up, we arranged for shared custody of our children, and I felt like had to quit and look for a “real job.” I spent whole days applying for jobs online. It is rough to find a job when you’ve been out of the normal workforce for a while, and all you can put on your resume is bartender and mother of three. Aware of my shortcomings, I wrote a cover letter that tried to bend these experiences into a useful work background.
I remember once, when I was in high school, a history teacher returned one of my term papers with the comment, “This paper is a little too ‘creative.’” He knocked five points off my grade, but I scoffed. How could creativity ever be a bad thing?
Well, it can be bad when you want a steady job.
As the application process went on, I felt like I was getting rejected by companies where I had never even applied. Eventually, I received an enthusiastic phone call from the editor of The Postal Record, the magazine of the National Association of Letter Carriers. He was moving up in the company, and they were looking for a new writer and copy editor. He said they found my application interesting,and they wanted to meet me in person.
Delighted, I scheduled the interview and found someone to watch my kids for the day. I went out and bought a new interview suit--a very adorable brown number with a fit-and-flare skirt. It was businesslike, but still attractive. I got brand-new brown spectator pumps to go with it. I bought a Metro card.
On interview day, I got up, took my kids to my friend’s house, drove an hour to the Metro, then rode 30 minutes into the city. I was early, but I ended up walking about a mile in the wrong direction before I realized my mistake and went back. So far, the day had cost me about $150 that I did not have. But it was fine, because this job would be a perfect fit. I had trade association experience. I had worked magazines in the past. Yes, it would be terribly far from home and the logistics of getting kids to and from school would be tough, but lots of people did it. I could find a way.
I finally arrived at NALC, and was quickly shown into the interview room. It was to be a group meeting, with two or three staff members. I was ready to love them from the moment we met. There was an older man and woman, a man younger than me (who currently held the job for which I was applying). The older two reminded me of college professors. I felt that I could come in to work wearing hemp sandals and do yoga at my desk during lunch break, and that would be okay.
The mood broke about five seconds after I sat down, when the young man said, “To be honest, we actually think we’ve already found someone who is an absolutely perfect fit for this job and has the right job experience. We just wanted to meet you, because we thought your cover letter was so interesting.”
Interesting. Yes. My brain started ticking off the expenses of my trip to the city, the lost time with my kids, the blisters sustained from walking two miles from the Metro station…and I felt a strong surge of yuck wash through me.
Things did not get better. Although this was a job interview (with a labor union, no less), my interviewers asked how I would manage to juggle my children and a full-time job. Just in case you’re wondering, you’re not actually allowed to ask those questions in an interview.
Since there was no way I was getting this job now, I decided to go full-out interesting. In response to their questions about my childcare, I told the interviewers I’d “work it out with my partner,” which I knew would make it sound like I had a same-sex life-partner somewhere. I was actually talking about my mom, but that wasn’t nearly interesting enough.
As if the interview weren’t bad enough, I also had to take a copy editing test. I was consumed with a sense of wasted time at that point, so I made the most flaccid effort I have ever put forth on any sort of contest.
Needless to say, the other girl got the job. But I got a lesson—whether or not it was a good one remains to be seen. Don’t be too interesting your applications. Just interesting enough. Save the really kooky stuff for after they get to know you a little. And if that means fewer interviews, fine. Hopefully it means a more precise job-hunt where you are showing them exactly what they need to see for you to get the job you want. Another lesson: always insist on a phone interview first, and get serious about the questions you ask in that first screening, to see if it really is right. Because you need to make sure that once you get there for good, you’ll be able to be your real self, and your office won’t just tolerate it: they will need it.