Sunday, May 11, 2008


The Downside of Successful Job-Hunting

A lot can happen in five years. An indecisive person can finish college, one can buy five or six new John Grisham books, and a president who’d previously had the support of everyone in the nation he governed save the Dixie Chicks can find himself with nearly 70 percent of the nation against him.

Also, skills that one had previously practiced to a great extent can fall into a state of disuse. This includes the art of applying for a new job. In the period of time from 2001-2003, my job application skills were peaking. They had to be: such was the climate of the times.

It’s true that gas prices had not yet exceeded $3 per gallon, far fewer people cared about what a sub-prime mortgage was, and the occasional defective toy seemed the scariest things coming out of China.

However, those who had graduated or were about to knew the reality of the situation: there were a certain number of desirable jobs available, and a considerably greater amount of recent or soon to be graduates who wanted them.

Thusly, those of us scouring the job market probably spent more time perfecting application techniques than we did in class.

At the time, universities were hosting a countless number of résumé-writing workshops designed to make our credentials more pleasing to the eye of prospective employers. They did so by teaching us to excise all unnecessary information, such as references, career objectives, and more than three of our previous employers. They also to remove all things that were simply detrimental, such as ornate fonts, lists of hobbies and email accounts like

Having a lean, professional résumé was meant to aid those of us who did not yet have any meaningful experiences to tout. The techniques we learned in these workshops were not terribly useful when compared to a prospective employer who actually had qualifications, but would be effective when compared with an equally-untried prospect whose résumé was bloated and turgid.

If this carefully-crafted piece of paper actually caught favorable attention from a prospective employer, then there was another set of skills to apply: those used at the job interview.

We learned what clothes to wear, how to respond to the interviewer’s questions in such a way that made you appear eager but not desperate, and just the exact amount of eye contact (hint: it’s the amount that makes the interviewer think you’re focused, but not trying to seduce him/her). We also learned the correct responses to most questions an employer might pose and the right inquiries we could ask them (hint: nothing about pay, hours, or how the interviewer’s eyes got to be such a dreamy shade of brown).

The great thing about the job market in the early part of this decade was that those of us who only got about 90 percent of the application process right on the first try would have many, many more opportunities to perfect it. We also got to collect and compare a wide variety of responses from these prospective employers when we followed up on our interviews.

Some of the best responses heard in those days included: “It was a tough call between you and several other candidates”; “Actually, we’ve decided to eliminate that position”; and “It turns that the person who was going to leave our office changed her mind. She didn’t want to risk it in this economy.”

My part-time job-hunting had been at places where the interview was a mere formality and nearly every applicant was hired. After so many metaphorical silver medals and moral victories at job interviews, I was actually rather stunned when I was chosen after applying at The Paris Post-Intelligencer in 2003. When the interviewer called back and said, “I’d like to thank you for applying” I was certain that a classic comedown was in store.

Instead, his next words were: “I’m prepared to offer you the job.”

From that moment on, my employment-hunting skills would never operate at the same level. Granted, I’d have more substance to promote, but never again would I be able to flex my résumé-writing rhetoric with job descriptions like this one, taken from my time as an in-store worker at Papa Johns: “From Aug. 1998 to Aug. 1999 I supervised the production of pizza.”

Since I started teaching English at the SDA Language Institute in Korea, I feared that my job application skills had further atrophied. Once they had proof that I had graduated from a university in a not-excessively-indecisive four-and-a-half years, the interview process there was also a mere formality (especially since it was done over the phone, making overzealous eye-contact impossible).

So, when I learned that The Korea Herald, one of this nation’s three major English-newspapers had an opening, I had doubts as whether or not my application skills were up to the task. Not only had John Grisham written a half-dozen books since my last interview, I would be performing it in a different culture.

Who knows, I thought, making even a moment of eye-contact in this country might be a sign of disrespect. Then again, anything less than a laser-like focus on his irises might be like saying that I think his eyes are unworthy of getting lost in.

Then I realized that there was no point in over-thinking it, because I already had a job and there was no reason to be concerned. There was, in fact, probably no reason to worry, but I didn’t let that stop me from doing so. During the day of the interview, one of the first sensations I recalled was that feeling of constantly needing both something to drink and to know where the lavatorical room of my gender was, despite the fact that I’d just drank a bottle of water/come out of said gender’s room.

I also recognized the sensation of utter relief that comes when the interview is over, you know you’ve done your best, and you don’t have to think about it for awhile. At least, not until the next day, when the employer calls or writes you back and tells you you’ve got the job.

Then you have lots to think about. Among the many questions I’ve had circulating in my head since I got the congratulatory message is whether my job application skills will ever be what they once were.

I guess they probably won’t, because I don’t plan on using them for awhile.

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