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I teach a night class, which my writing schedule doesn't really allow, and so beginning next week, I will teach two night classes.  How to remedy the time crunch?

Why, add a full-time job, of course.  A government one!  Inside the Beltway, involving a commute which will consume half of my waking hours!  That'll solve everything!

You'd think I'd stop writing about jobs which I haven't actually been paid for yet, much less approved for, but I feel compelled to anyway, because a part of me, a very big part, the part which hhhhhhhaaaaaaaaates normal-people adult-style office work, is screaming, and is kind of hoping that the hiring agency, like Mattel, also has access to Google.

But the rest of me uses electricity, and also enjoys eating on occasion.  Because when media companies lose advertising revenue due to major sponsor cutbacks in the face of  horrific tax increases and stock drops?  Suddenly, for some reason, editorial boards aren't as interested in paying top dollar for eight hundred word essays on what people name their cars.  And so:  Back in the box.

When I ride the Metro, I sometimes look around at the people who aren't armed and muse on who they are, where they're going.  On Monday, I wondered if my train contained anybody else bound on an interview for a job he didn't really want.

I've been applying for federal employment off and on, mostly with the Air Force and National Park Service, since 2002-- as it's incredibly difficult to fire the incompetent, government work was made for me.  I've never hit the interview stage.  I've never even hit the "We deem to acknowledge your existence" stage.  Now here I sit in Round Four of the hiring process for a position with four openings and a pay band which, by DC standards, is cardboard box-level poverty.  My chances are frighteningly good.

The application went in weeks ago, and for a time I weighed economic survival against, you know, not hating life.  I feared I'd take a new day job too soon, in the process missing out on a potentially career-changing writing opportunity.  So as a staunch believer in signal graces, I punted:  If I get the job, I'll take it, and drastically cut back on teaching for the moment.  If not, I'll keep plugging along at five cents a word and glaring angrily at comma splices.  Oh, there's going to be a day job; it's just a matter of which one, and, although I'm grateful for the opportunity to choose, this effectively puts a potential day job whiff entirely in the hands of God.

That doesn't mean I can't slippery up the field a little bit in order to nudge along the whiffing.

When I taught tech writing at the University of Airplanes, I included a section on business writing,  job search, and interview skeelz, which means that I have actually taught other people how to properly conduct themselves during the hiring process.  Which also means that if I want to screw it up.... I can really screw it up.

I honestly didn't mean to be raking a hand through the back of my hair when the interviewer came to claim me from the lobby so that I first had to dislodge a tiny hairball from my fingers before shaking his hand.  That was pure blondeness.  But the part when he asked me why I was applying for a technical writing job when most of my publication history was in creative nonfiction and I said, "Because I need to pay the mortgage"?  That was all field-greasing.

The proper answer to that question, of course, was:  "Although my creative writing credits outweigh my technical work at the moment, I strongly believe that I've gathered enough experience for the position; for instance, my extensive work with (NAME OF HORRIBLE SEMINAR GIVING, CUBE-INFESTED COMPANY) included a great deal of (INCOME-GENERATING, INCREDIBLY BORING ACTION VERB WHICH ALSO FEATURES PROMINENTLY IN THE JOB ANNOUNCEMENT).  I look forward to emphasizing and expanding that aspect of my skill set here at the (OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT GOVERNMENTING), and contributing to the team environment in the process."  But no.  I have never been so perfectly honest on a job interview, which means of course that I've blown it.

I'm not entirely sure, to tell you the truth, what I've blown.  Here be the full job description, right off USAJobs:  "Through formal and informal training or developmental assignments, the incumbent will acquire knowledge of the principles, techniques, processes, and procedures that form the basis of the work performed in the assigned Unit. This will help the trainee develop the skills needed to serve as a Technical Writer-Editor."

Well, that answers that.  It's just what I always wanted to be when I grew up-- I can't count how many times I dressed as an incumbent who performs duties within my assigned Unit for Halloween.

In some ways I actually left the interview wanting the job even less than I did when I first put hand to hair there in the waiting room:  The interviewer, a very nice man who reminded me in a kindly way of one of the Bobs from Office Space, had a very clean desk and told me that while the job title was "Technical Writer," it does not, in fact, offer much in the way of, you know, writing.  What it seems to involve instead is... formatting.  Essential formatting.

"We don't close when it snows," Kindly Bob said.  "Or during budgetary crises."

Well, that's a relief.  You know who else is an essential government employee?  My air traffic controller husband.  So when the next blizzard immobilizes the Eastern seaboard, take comfort in the fact that Air Force One will stand with cleared corridors in the sky to any Earthly direction, and my vital margin setting will continue.  America shall live to see another day, thanks to me and my drag-and-dropping.

Otherwise, I really had to work at the greasing. Kindly Bob had a series of federally mandated questions to ask me.

"Do you," he said, "know how to use a computer?"

"Yes," I said gently.  "I believe that's on my application."  The one which was submitted online.

bracing at:  mbe@drinktothelasses.com

tip the bartender

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Reader Comments (7)

Well I have to say the computer question is completely legit . . . given the number of PhD and JD educated people, not to mention the others with BA's who are making 4 times my salary, that I have known who can't even google something or add an attachment there has to be someonein the business who is familiar with something more recent than clay tablets and cuneiform. Good luck in the job search as I spend my 29th year begging for an unpaid internship. Don't ever go to law school, trust me.

December 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDanica

Good luck in the job hunt. I tried for full-time writing work once upon a time, got it and was driven absolutely out of my mind in under two weeks. I'm responding to the poor economy by looking for every way I can avoid a 'real job' that I can think of.

December 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterThursday Bram

I hate job interviews. Particularly the ones involving psychological tests. Not because I'm afraid they find out I'm mentally unbalanced, but because they should already know that a person who willingly committed to 4 years of no sleep to acquire a diploma that would guarantee a salary way lower than BA bachelor, is necessarily insane.

My worst job interview was when they asked me to take an AutoCAD test. "So what's wrong with that?", you would ask. Well, what sucked about it was that it was a written AutoCAD test... with no computer in front!!! It was terribly tedious, but the worst came with the psychological test: not only they asked me to draw a tree, a man & a woman, but they also asked me to write a little essay which involved said tree, man & woman; by that time I was certain I didn't want the job, so I won't tell you why I wrote, but I'm pretty sure the examiner had terrible nightmares because of me ;-)

So, I really don't know whether to wish you good luck on getting that job or not. I can only tell you that things are pretty hard everywhere, and I just found out my brother-in-law was fired...yet again. What a wonderful way to spend Xmas, huh?

So hang in there guys, and understand we will all have to make little sacrifices in order to make through these harsh times.

December 8, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

I have been applying to jobs through that website too! Since education, healthcare and government will practically never experience excrutiating layoffs like every other industry in the world, I figured I would cover two out of the three bases: education and government! Grad school covered education (currently hating it, sorry) and I figure it won't hurt to try out government. Looks like our lives are following similar paths!

ps: Those job descriptions are really that crazy too!

December 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCollegeGal

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[...] as it happens, I now know where I’d be had I become a pen-and-ink columnist:  Right freakin’ here.  I was hired into the Department of Government Governmenting with another new employee in his [...]

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