Wednesday, November 12, 2008

applying yourself, freelance


I went for a freelance interview today. As is usually the case, I was referred for the job. Someone with whom I had endured a series of difficult meetings—another creative director—had recommended me for freelance in his department.

The agency is so big, it is spread out all over town. The job I was seeing about was in a building downtown far away from the midtown locations I’d worked in before. When I got off the elevator the receptionist greeted me with a friendly smile and startled me by passing me a clipboard and asking me to fill out an employment application. An employment application! I hadn’t seen one in years.

The receptionist suggested I take a seat and make myself comfortable. I retreated to a trendily upholstered sofa and stared for a while at the form in my hands. Why was it making me feel so demeaned? Why did I resent being asked to put down the date and previous addresses if less than five years at current address? Why was I confused by the simple question What Job Are You Applying For? And insulted by a request for the names and contact information for 5 business persons not related to me? (Do they think without that caveat you will reference your mother?)

It took me a few minutes to get over feeling affronted (the job is guaranteed to last many months) and I bought time to get over my hesitation by conducting a full-out search for a pen in my bag. (The fact that the clipboard hadn't come with a pen on a cord consoled me, for some reason.) Finally, reluctantly, I got down to business.

Just as I was checking boxes to indicate which office equipment and machinery I knew how to operate (options included: calculator? typewriter? copier? postage meter? Was I was applying to Sterling Cooper in 1962?) the receptionist’s phone rang and when she hung up, she said person I’d come for was ready to see me. “I didn’t know you were freelance,” she said. “Sorry. You don’t have to fill out the form.” Ridiculously, her words restored me to full height as I rose to pass her the empty clipboard.

The incident reminded me of what it was like to break into a business, before jobs came to me through word of mouth, before I was accorded professional courtesies and privileges that I now take for granted. For jobhunters in receptions filling out forms today--hats off to you and good luck.

10 comments:

Steffan Postaer said...

I appreciated this essay about "applying" for a job. Very poignant. I'm not kidding.
Good luck, Ad Broad!
Steffan

auntie christ said...

Were you applying for a job with the US Postal Service? Man!...

I remember one of my first interviews was at Rolling Stone magazine and they sat me down to rule out a layout on piece of Chromalux with a 00 Rapidograph that needed cleaning. Someone stood watch over me (really, no pressure) and the pen inevitably blobbed out a sploot of ink and the supervisor announced out loud "that paper is $2 a sheet - interview over." I stopped reading Rolling Stone after that.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

@steffan Thanks for the read and encouraging words.

@auntie Yep, giving up the annoying adlife and making a go at USPS, stability and benefits, how did you know? Great bit about applying at RS. Rapidograph! Recently, I had to try to explain what it was to a writer in her 20s who thought it was something to do with a phonograph. sigh.

HighJive said...

i recently was in the running for a job where the company made me take a psyche test. plus, i had to fill out forms asking about criminal records and sign an agreement to drug testing.

i didn't get the job, although i wasn't really interested. but there are lots of crazy processes out there right now.

GirlPie said...

Lovely writing, quite the complete picture you painted here. I even felt better for you (and worse for the Receptionist) with you ending. Haven't filled out a job app since '95 and am feeling the tight gut of facing the form just from your swell tale. Your blog is always a treat.

Anonymous said...

I'll be sure to recall this wonderful story when I apply for my first junior position.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

@girlpie Awww, shucks. Your post means a lot. Truly. Thank you.

@anonymous Good luck with that! But somehow I think (hope) going for your first job doesn't pose quite the same opportunity for base humiliation. As a newbie, you already know you're low on the totem. No place to go for you but up, up, up!

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

@highjive A psyche test? Really? How exactly was that administered? I feel like the business is being transformed by the same lamebrains who took over airport security.

HighJive said...

It was an online series of questions where you had to choose answers that were apparently typological (is that the word) in nature, designed to show the employer the kind of person and professional you are. I suspect the former creative director had either dependency or psychological problems, leading the shop to be extraordinarily paranoid (which would also explain the random drug tests). Regardless, it was all a major turn-off, and I was relieved to learn they went with someone else.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

@highjive Beware any job prospect that requires you to pee into a cup...