Tuesday, September 13, 2011

‘I just like to sit around at home and read books all day.’

Although I really do hope and (metaphorically speaking) pray that I never, ever, ever, ever, ever have to apply for a job, and wend my way through the interview process, again in my life, I’m a sucker for any and all articles on “Magic Words for Interviews,” “Attack of the Killer Résumé Mistakes,” “Seven Habits of Successful Job Hoppers.”

Most of the time the advice is just fine, if completely banal and obvious – best not to wear that “Yankees Suck” tee-shirt on the first interview; never know who might be sitting on the other side of the desk. 

Thus a recent roundup of things not to put in your cover letter, on fins.com, caught my eye. (Actually, it didn’t catch my eye on fins.com, but, rather, in a e-mail blast from the WSJ. Just don’t want anyone to think I have nothing better to do with my time than hang out on fins.com trying to figure out how to get a job in the financial services industry. Not!)

I blitzed my way through the article, registering that, once again, the advice was for the most part of the fine but banal and obvious category. Then a somewhat discordant note was struck, redoubling my gratitude that I’m not looking for work. 

The one that completely jabbed me was the item about not focusing on your hobbies in your cover letter. This conversation, the article suggests, is best left to the interview, itself. Fine, fine, fine. Then there was this:

If you are asked in an interview about your hobbies and adventures, be prepared with a strong answer, says [Lindsay] Olson [who specializes in recruiting communications and marketing professionals]. "What a [job candidate] likes to do outside of work might show how they are in their job," she says. "As a hiring manager, what you don't like to hear is, 'I just like to sit around at home and read books all day.

Well, Lindsay, I was/am a pretty darned good communications and marketing professional and, as it so happens, there are not all that many things I’d rather do than “sit around at home and read books all day.”

Which is not to say that this is all I do. It’s just that, given my druthers, and a Myers-Briggs multiple choice list that also included “run with the bulls in Pamplona,” “win the Poker World Series”, or “enter a best-recipes for waxed beans contest,” I’d have to opt with that “sit around at home and read books all day.”

And as a hiring manager, if someone had told me that they liked to read, that would mostly be for the good.

Okay, not if I found out that the only things they liked to read were Sidney Sheldon novels or porn.

But mostly if someone told me that they liked to read, they’re also telling me that they are likely thinkers. That they are curious about how the world (and the human heart) works. That they understand and appreciate that everyone else in the world is not exactly like them. That they are open to new ideas, and to fresh viewpoints.

Since communication and marketing professionals should know how to write coherently, I’d also find it a big plus that a potential hire was a reader, since reading helps you learn what clear communication looks like, how written language is structured, what works and what doesn’t work on the page.

I can understand that, for a candidate, revealing yourself to be a serious reader, or having any sort of intellectual life, may be off putting to the interviewer. (It’s interesting, isn’t it, that someone could tell you that they were an Olympic pairs skater, and you’d probably think, ‘great’ rather than ‘man, this makes me feel so inadequate about my double-runner skating abilities.” But if someone lets on that the latest thing they read was Middlemarch in Japanese, or that they’re something of a savant when it comes to Ming vases, it makes you feel completely inadequate, and hoping that the person doesn’t see Janet Evanovich’s latest Stephanie Plum page-turner sticking out of your briefcase. Or just write the person off as an oddball.)

But to put down sitting around reading books all day….

It’s not exactly like revealing that what you really like to do all day is experiment with eye makeup and look at yourself in the mirror. Or sit around watching reruns of Bad Girls Club while eating double-stuffed Oreos. Or OCD-ing your kitchen floor clean.

Remind me never to look for work through Lindsay Olson.

Speaking of sitting around reading books all day, I highly recommend Emily Alone by Stuart O’Nan. Boy, can that guy write.

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