On the Spot; or, Failed Job Applications, Pt. 6
I was recently reminded of the first time I was asked to travel for a job interview. It was in 2006, right on the heels of the tornado. The job was for development coordinator at the Northern Plains Resource Council in Billings, Montana. I was excited at the prospect, even though I neither had experience in fundraising or donor development nor did I know much about the water rights, mining issues, or high plains conservation that served as the organization’s chief advocacy issues. I researched it all in the weeks leading up to the interview. Then the tornado hit, and the stakes for the interview increased dramatically. The job prospect became our ticket out of our wrecked apartment and the uncertainty of our temp-working lives. I wanted so badly to do well that I convinced myself that my inexperience was immaterial, that Northern Plains knew what they were getting when they bought me a ticket to Billings. I left the interview feeling like the job was mine to lose.1 In retrospect, my inexperience did matter, as did the way I tried to compensate for that inexperience by relying on my volunteerism in church. I’m sure some of the people in the room thought I was a religious fanatic; that I hadn’t even volunteered for a political campaign didn’t help matters. All things considered, I probably wouldn’t have hired me, either.
I was thinking of that interview because two weeks ago I traveled to Madison, Wisconsin, to interview for an editorial position there. The job wasn’t unrelated to development: I would have been editing grant proposals.2 But the circumstances couldn’t have been more different. For one, I went to Madison with significantly more editorial and professional experience than I had five years ago; I had a much greater repertoire of ways to talk about my work and what I might bring to the job. For another, I was never in a position to raise my hopes so high that I could believe the job was mine to lose. To win, yes, but the entire process was as rigorous a search as I’ve been through. The other candidates were bound to have at least as much editorial experience as I, if not more. When my daylong interview was over, I said to K that the thing I was most certain of was that the organization would get the editor it wanted.
Although I haven’t yet spoken with the Director about the search committee’s evaluation, in retrospect, I think that I represented myself well, but I certainly wasn’t perfect. In terms of interviewing alone, I ought to have recognized I am not well-practiced at job interviews, and consequently, I am not well-practiced at talking about myself. Intellectually, I knew this going in, but I didn’t act on it with nearly the vigor I should have. I spent the majority of my preparation time researching the organization and trying to find ways to fit myself into the puzzle it presented; I ought to have cut that time in half. I could then have devoted more time reflecting on myself and my work to devise good, concrete examples of how I edit, how I’ve worked with writers to develop their writing, how I’ve devised and managed publishing schedules, how I’ve worked with others. Having such examples—and not just examples, but really good examples—at hand is important! After all, a search committee wants to know about the job candidate, not what they candidate could find out about them. Not reflecting enough was probably my single greatest error in preparing for the in-person interview.
There are some professional lessons I take from the interview, too. Early in the application process, during a phone interview, I was asked “What’s your editing philosophy?” The question surprised me; I had prepared to talk about efficiencies and processes, not an overarching thesis for how I work. I muddled through my answer, and they must have been happy enough with what I said because they pushed me through to the next round. And it is probably the case that this organization was concerned to find someone who has intellectualized her work more than many publishers would be. Nevertheless, the question has lingered with me ever since it was asked. I think that my work could stand more scrutiny, analysis, and, well, philosophizing. It’s one thing to praise checklists; it’s quite another to examine what I really think about the relationship between writers, editors, and readers at some length and depth (certainly in greater depth than I did here). Pragmatically, it’s also worth examining how well the editorial practices I have adopted support or undermine my goals as an editor.
Finally, the interview reminded me that there editing is a craft that bears studying in its own right. I work in educational publishing, and much my work requires at least enough familiarity with educational theory and practice to code-switch (or to talk with the language of dentists, as it were) from one discipline to another. Because of that, I sometimes get entrapped by the education side of my work. But there remain a number of editorial practices and modes of representation that I can become better versed in. For example, electronic editing tools are myriad and growing. As best I can, I need to stay abreast of them. In addition, knowing how to navigate a file (as opposed to a hard copy) swiftly and well can improve one’s efficiency as an editor; indeed, at least one editor on the Freelance mailing list swears that learning regular expressions is the best way to improve editorial productivity. There are even ways I can learn to take advantage of how electronic files are used, not just by me, but by the writers I work with, such as by comparing my own edits to the changes they accept or reject, and adapting my work accordingly. Finally (though I am sure I could add more to the list), for as long as I’ve been editing, learning ways to efficiently and effectively represent data has never gone underused.
In other words, from the interview, I take this: I have a lot to do!
1 Rereading my assessment of that interview and thinking about others I’ve been to, I am apparently a poor reader of interviews. It may be that I misread kindness for enthusiasm.
2 In case the title and the past conditional tense isn’t clear enough, I wasn’t offered the job.