Tahlequah Daily Press


April 14, 2014

Bodily functions don’t belong in job interviews

TAHLEQUAH — For all you soon-to-be college grads who will be trying to join the rest of us suckers in the workforce, I have a word of advice: Don’t pass gas during the interview.

If you think this is a no-brainer, you probably haven’t conducted many job searches over the past couple of decades in this neck of the woods. It seems some folks don’t want a job, so much as they want to give the appearance they’re looking for one. This may be to satisfy regulations established for extending unemployment benefits, or to satisfy regulations established by a nagging mother or spouse.

But job-seeking isn’t like window shopping. The latter is a passive activity that harms no one and could even lead to a later transaction. The former is an activity that’s going to inconvenience others, and believe me, if you carry a box of matches and light one every time you approach a bridge, someone in a passing vehicle is going to remember you.

Unfortunately, I am now in the position of looking for another reporter. This is almost a perpetual exercise in our profession. It’s not unusual for a talented, tenured newspaper employee to find a better-paying gig – say, as a convenience store clerk. I’ve even had a couple leave over the years to become teachers, which is just a smidgen better in terms of pay, if you can call going from the fire into the frying pan “better.” I’ve heard many great teachers complain (off the record) about a few peers who have trouble with grammar, spelling and punctuation. Their fear is that many ignorant folks – and by this I mean politicians – will base their impressions of the entire teaching field on the bad apples, and use it as an excuse to refuse pay increases.

I can assure you journalism suffers from the same malady. Back in late 2011, I received a resume with a cover letter that started like this: “I seen in your paper that your looking for somone to be a reproter, and I think I fit the bill.” While “I seen” is a perfectly acceptable way for an Okie to speak, it’s not that impressive on paper.

And don’t think college degrees prevent such grammatical travesties from occurring. Every degree program at every university has a few losers floundering about aimlessly through the curricula. When I was adjuncting at NSU back in the ‘90s, a kid in one of my classes tried to capitalize the “a” in the verb “was” on his editing test. And when I kicked off each semester with a spelling quiz, and called out the word “appall,” half the class would write “A Paul” – as in the apostle. The aforementioned “I seen” letter, in fact, came from a sheepskin-endowed young man, but I won’t reveal from whence he matriculated, just in case a professor from that institution is along for the ride. Too many profs these days, perhaps in their despair, are packing heat.

Atrocious grammar is not the only “red flag,” either. An applicant pronouncement dreaded by newspaper editors the world over is: “I’ve always wanted to write.” When we hear this phrase uttered, we think (to quote my husband) that the applicant in question can “want in one hand and [poop] in the other, and see which one fills up first.” I’ve never met anyone who “always wanted” to write who was actually able to do so.

Even when the resume and cover letter are satisfactory, we’re not in the home stretch until we meet the person – and if hired, the person sticks around overnight. Years ago, I hired a sports editor sight unseen from Ithaca, N.Y. He drove to Tahlequah, hung about the office for a few hours, talked to some sports stringers, then left. Several hours later, his mother called to say he was on his way home. She explained that he “didn’t like the looks” of the town, but since it was she and not the hiree who called, I suspect there may have been other issues at hand.

I’m continually amazed at what some people wear when they show up for an interview. Granted, we don’t always look our best when we come to work, especially if it’s turning out to be a long week, but those of us who ultimately landed a job managed to mask our hillbilly roots for the first meeting. Back in late 2011, a guy came into the office in cutoffs, flip-flops and a T-shirt that proclaimed, “You’ll take away my gun when you pry my cold, dead fingers off the trigger.” I almost made a fear-based hiring – after all, said gun may have been in one of his frayed pockets – until he told me he couldn’t work weekends because he was Catholic, and it was against his religion. Big mistake, since I also happen to be Catholic. I took it as a sign from God and declined, ever so gently, to add him to the payroll.

Another guy came into the office and asked, “Anyone have a breath mint? I’d hate for y’all to get a bad impression.” Too late. I also remember a fellow who asked up-front for the location of the bathroom, since he’d been having “stomach trouble” and “I don’t want to fill my britches.” Too much information. And I haven’t even touched on the job-seekers who take repeated calls on their smartphones, from anxious mothers, paranoid spouses, or in one notable case, a pot dealer.

Perhaps this is why some folks prefer remote interviews. Just last Wednesday, a guy wanted me to talk to him over the phone without the benefit of a resume in hand. I told him that’s not how it’s done. He kept insisting; I kept demurring. I guess the pressure of the conversation got to be too much for him: He passed gas loudly, for about three seconds, and then excused himself nonchalantly. Next candidate. ...


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