Wednesday, 6 June 2012

My mysterious charisma

a.m.k. is on an incredible eight-year winning streak.

I have had about a dozen jobs in my life thus far, ranging from five years long to just three weeks. I've worked at multiple grocery stores and coffee shops, a book store, in high tech, a consulting firm, and in a mall. What is mildly interesting is how I got those jobs, or rather, that I managed to get all those jobs. Somehow, I've gotten pretty much every job I have ever interviewed for.

"Well, a lot of people consider
me small and prestigious."
I am pretty socially awkward. Not quite as socially awkward as perhaps some others are who obsess about school as much as I did. Not quite as socially awkward as other people who were homeschooled as long as I was. But I am a bit socially awkward just the same. I am not someone who I would describe as 100% of people instantly liking at first impression. Part of it might be that I learned social interactions by watching daytime TV, Boy Meets World and Seinfeld, and I only ever practiced those interactions with other people who never left their houses and prayed the rosary at least once a day. And according to recent personality tests that I've taken (fun online ones, not at the Scientology centre on Rideau), I lean pretty heavily towards being an introvert--more than something like 95% of people. I am somewhere between a shut-in and that guy who eats ice cream alone (but never on Bank Street on Sunday--I'm no law-breaker).

Somehow, I've done extremely well for myself. I've managed to settle my social anxiety to a manageable level and to interact successfully with other people. My Interpersonal Relations professor mentioned something in lecture once that I found interesting: true introverts can get very good at faking being an extravert, because to succeed in this world, one almost always has to act extraverted. We live in an outgoing society where you have to be liked. And, as I must begrudgingly accept, I am not very likeable because I'd rather spend my evenings in a warm bath, drinking beer and watching hockey or sitcoms on my laptop. Alone. (Side note: don't worry, I put the laptop on the sink so there's no risk of me dropping it in the tub.)

How I once failed a job interview by lying about being nice

"Throw back a couple shots
of Hennigans and you'll be
as loose as a goose and ready
to roll in no time."
I have had a lot of different jobs, but I've only ever interviewed for one job that I didn't get in my life. That was when I was 15 years old, and it was for McDonald's. I made it to the second interview, and my friend Courtney who worked at another McDonald's prepped me for the types of questions that they'd be asking. I was ready to argue about the importance of serving customers -- even if the french fry timer had just gone off -- because the customer comes first. Instead they asked me about when I last helped people.

Helped people? Don't get me wrong, I was actually a very nice boy. (OK, so that was the age when I was around my peak of my Seinfeld-tinted asshole-ishness; I was still sort of figuring things out.) I even think I was nicer at heart then than I am now, but I definitely didn't show it because I was afraid to. I went to a terrifying grade school and high school where any male friendliness, like a chemical trigger, instantly made everyone around you utter homophobic slurs and throw a desk at you. The point is that I was nice on the inside but put on a huge fake show to try to be cool.

I could have listed some of the nice things I actually did do. I did and do nice things all the time, like volunteering and helping people with homework. But the thought about talking about this openly was so bizarre to me that nothing came to my mind. So, I began by talking about how I helped my co-worker at my other job, which was mistake number one, because McDonald's doesn't want to hire a fifteen year old with another job because they want me to be available to be called in any time. Then, drawing a blank, I made up this impromptu story about how I, yes, helped an old lady cross the street.

I remember actually believing that I had helped an old lady cross the street, and I actually might have at some point -- but there's no way that should have been my example. (I actually helped an old lady walk along an icy patch of sidewalk on Gladstone a couple months ago -- I swear to God. Would I cite that as an example if someone in an interview asked me to talk about how I helped someone recently? Absolutely not. Why? Because it sounds made up.)

"Remember, don't whistle
on the elevator."
Why I'm so successful at interviews now

I wasn't offered the job at McDonald's, but after the other 10-15 interviews I've done, I have been offered the job every single time. Which begs the question: am I really that charming?

I don't think I am. What I think the real problem is is that I have a horrible CV. My theory is, that if I get an interview based on my CV, I am pretty much guaranteed the job because if I wasn't stupidly qualified, I wouldn't even be getting the interview. I once sent out 200 CVs before getting one interview, and I certainly applied to many jobs I thought I was quite qualified for. I've reviewed my CV a million times and I have chunks of good stuff on there, but there must be something -- the layout, the font, the format, or maybe I don't sound like a real person -- that isn't what employers are looking for.

Maybe I'm also not giving myself enough credit. Maybe most people just have trouble answering questions about their past experience or promising they'll show up on time. When someone asks me to explain my experience with editing, I can talk about the editing work I've done over the past several years. Is it possible that other people aren't doing that? Or do I just seem really innocent and thus a good hire who isn't going to dick off and read hockey blogs at work?

"I want you to have this job.
Of course ..."
I'm not sure what makes me a good candidate for all these jobs, but for the most part, my employers are pretty happy with me afterwards -- I do good work and I work fast. But that doesn't explain how they would know that after talking with me for a bit, and why my success rate for interview to job conversion is a hair below 100%. Did Boy Meets World, Seinfeld and Days of Our Lives actually give me good life advice thru their bizarre conflicts and offensive/bad jokes? Or do I just have so much natural charisma that no amount of social awkwardness and homeschooling can stop my ability to show my stuff?

I don't think I am charismatic, and I do think that I've been qualified for all the jobs I've been offered. I just don't understand how I haven't interviewed yet for a job that I either haven't been the best candidate for or just didn't get for whatever other reason. Once a manager and coworker were talking about me finding another job because my contract was almost up, and one of them said all I would need is an interview than I would get any job. Did she know something I don't?

a.m.k. is an experienced writer and editor, and he recently charmed his way into a job editing scientific articles. Much of his editing for the Centretown Nonsense blog is done via text message.

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