My worst/most successful job interview
Knowing the company you work for can boost your chances — sorta
I have never had a job interview more awkward than the one I had in 2008. I’d just read an op-ed in a newspaper and completely disagreed with the writer. I wrote a long-winded Letter to the Editor picking apart everything I didn’t agree with in regard to that post. I had minimal interest in hard news, but I really enjoyed reading this niche newspaper. I never wanted to be a journalist. I had zero desire to watch the local or national news.
So when the editor contacted me to first compliment my writing and then ask me to come in to speak with him about that particular op-ed, I figured, “Why not? I’ll get to see the inside of the building. This’ll be cool.” I dropped by and chatted with the editor for about 20 minutes, and he asked me, “Do you know who I am?” I repeated the name on the emails. He looked confused and asked me, “Do you know who the writer of that piece was?”
I couldn’t remember. I spent more time picking the piece apart than I did paying attention to the name. And he responded, “I’m the one who wrote that piece.” I’d completely forgotten (or overlooked) that detail. And my shoulders slumped, realizing if this would’ve been a job interview, I’d have blown it completely. And then the editor offered me a job. I was startled. He said that he respected that I was not a “yes” person, and quality writers and editors welcome constructive criticism.
I knew that that was true, primarily because of an editing job I’d held for two previous years for a company that produced adult education financial textbooks. I learned so much from working with editors who had decades of knowledge under their belt. But even still, that group of four (and two freelancers) would still challenge each other.
And although that wasn’t the last time that that newspaper editor and I did not see eye-to-eye, it was a valuable lesson learned for me. I am forever grateful for him inviting me in. More than a decade later with various well-known and lesser-known magazines and newspapers, I entered an industry I had absolutely no initial desire to join. I also learned three even more important lessons.
First, sometimes the industry you think you’re going to work in may not be the one you can grow in. (I wanted to be a full-time fiction author. My bachelor’s degree and three years of grad school focused on Public Relations and Creative Writing.) Second, all that career advice about job applicants learning about the company before applying matters. I watched many freelancers and aspiring reporters blow it during interviews because they couldn’t tell you an inkling about the publication they were trying to work for. Third, never underestimate who can possibly give you your next job opportunity.
Although I would never recommend my accidental job interview tactics, I learned a lot about writing, editing, networking and selling myself just from a grumpy Letter to the Editor.