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Thursday, July 30, 2009


James asks: What is good job interview technique, and what should I do to make the right impression on a prospective employer?

I am glad you have come to me with this one, James. Perhaps you may think of me as a dashing author-about-town,* but I was not always gainfully employed as a writer. Like many scribblers, I have had many, many jobs, and I am pretty much an expert on how to get them. I have been, in rough chronological order: a Burger King employee, a snack bar attendant, a telemarketer, a nanny, a sandwich-maker, a writing center consultant, a barista, a school secretary, a ball-pen and climbing net supervisor, a caterer, an administrative assistant, a literary manager of a theater company, a bartender, a waitress, a waitress in a haunted house themed restaurant (which is different from just being a waitress, trust me), a fake employee, a rehearsal room and costume attendant, a PowerPoint presentation expert, a speaker’s aide, an in-house dramaturg, a research assistant, a freelance writer, a freelance editor, a layout editor, a writing instructor, an editorial assistant, an “education specialist,” and an editor.

I think I’m missing a few, but that’s about the size of it. I have had a lot of jobs, some good, some bad. Hey, I worked here. And remember the time I told you about this?

Clearly, I know how to get a job. And now, I will pass some of my wisdom on to you. This is a tough economic climate, and I want to make sure that YOU are gainfully employed. Because if YOU are not gainfully employed, YOU cannot buy my books, and I have to go back to one of those other places. And trust me, I am not going back here, even though I still have my nametag.

Now, everything I am about to say only applies if you are trying to get a job where you have to wear a nametag (or a nametag equivalent, such as a themed t-shirt or hat). If you are applying to become, say, the head of cardiothoracic surgery at Boston General, the rules may be different.

I am going to tell you something very, very important—something most people will not tell you. This lesson will save you a lot of time and will help you score the job you are after.

There are only two kinds of bosses.

Type one (kind of rare, but not so rare that you won’t encounter them): people so into the job that they are just hiring because upper management has told them that hiring people is part of their job so they will do it with GUSTO!

Type two (most bosses): people who want someone who will do their job for them. (When I was a boss, this was my type.)

You may think that there are other kinds of bosses, but you would be wrong. There are only two. There are certainly a lot of subcategories like:

- clinically insane boss
- chemically dependent boss
- accidentally promoted boss
- son/daughter of the boss boss
- distracted by personal drama boss
- terrified that people are about to discover his/her incompetence boss
- applying for another job as we speak boss
- involved in an illicit relationship with someone at the company boss
- on the wrong medication boss
- unaware of his/her own ineptitude boss
- thinks you two will be great friends and so keeps telling you things you don’t want to know boss
- suspicious of everyone boss
- sarcastic for no reason boss
- does over of everything you do boss
- actual spawn of Satan boss

Oh, and sure, the occasional good boss.

These are all very popular kinds of bosses, but trust me . . . they are either type one or type two, and everything else is just FLAVOR. You need to figure this out early in the interview. Everything depends on it. I have complied the following list of conversational clues that will help you determine which you are dealing with.


In the interview, this kind of boss will tell you a lot about him or herself and his or her management style and background. You will not have asked, and it will not be relevant. In fact, it will be incredibly awkward.

Let’s say you are applying for a job at a coffee place. A conversation with a type one boss might go something like this.

So, you want to work at my branch of Snarlbluck’s? Well, let me tell you a little bit about what kind of store I run. I’m a really hands on manager. I’m really good friends with all of my employees.


YOU: Oh . . . uh . . . great! I like . . . friends.

(not listening) And I know how to run every single piece of equipment behind that counter. I can do every job. I’ve been with the company since . . . oh, let’s see, since 2006 . . . and I can make every variation of every drink.


YOU: Oh, uh . . .

TYPE 1: I’m the kind of manager who expects people to tell me how things are going, and . . .


TYPE 2: So you want to work at Snarlbluck’s. Why?

See the difference? The Type 1 boss is off to the races with the personal resume, and the Type 2 boss wants to know, correctly, why in God’s name you would apply to work in this place. And all they want is . . . someone who will do their job for them.

You have about one minute, maybe two, to figure this out.

If the boss in question is a Type 1, getting the job is actually really easy. All you have to do is pretend to listen VERY, VERY INTENTLY to what they are saying. This interview is not about you—its about them. Don’t treat the interview like a job interview—treat the meeting as though you were meeting a foreign dignitary at an embassy . . . someone charming and wonderful. This isn’t about anything so crass as getting a job. No. This is about meeting someone worth meeting. Your application? Let’s not even waste time discussing it. Let’s get back to what’s important. YOUR NEW BOSS.

If you must speak, make sure to pepper your conversation with references to them. Say things like, “You seem like a great person to work for.” “Do you REALLY know how to make every kind of Coffeecino?” Even better . . . quote them once or twice. Ask for clarification on something that they said. “So what did you do when you ran out of large mugs?” you ask. And make your expression mirror theirs. Smile and nod when they talk about their huge success getting corporate to send three extra boxes of promotional hats. Look grave when they tell you the story about the time the credit card swipe on the cash register broke during Christmas season.

If you play your cards right, this will not be the last time you hear these stories!

But if your boss is Type 2, you are going to have to prove yourself. And what you need to prove is that you are both ready, willing, and able to do their job for them. Because anyone with a grain of sense would rather spend the day talking to friends, reading, or watching cat videos online. They have done their time in the trenches.

It’s a fickle business, this part. Let’s get right to what your new boss is after.


This is question #1. Your application probably doesn’t have much information on it aside from your name, your address, and your school. They are looking at it just to see if you have filled in the right words in the right places, and not, say, drawn pictures of unicorns or pineapples or pineacorns or uniapples. You should get through this part just fine.


With very few exceptions, experience is completely irrelevant in most nametag jobs. This is awesome news for you! Don’t work yourself into a teeth-grinding frenzy worrying whether or not those three months you spent working in the copy center will be enough for the high-flyers at Snarlbluck’s. It all goes back to the all-important “Are you an idiot?” question. If anything, they will ask just to make sure you weren’t fired for being an idiot. If you did get fired because you made some goofy mistake which you now regret, you sweep in with a “I had to quit because of schoolwork” or somesuch. This will show that while you have been an idiot in the past, you have fixed it now, and you know to make smooth cover statements.

Now, I am not saying YOU should do this, but I got at least six of those jobs on my list above by . . . well, lying is such a harsh word, and as I have told you many times, I do not know how to lie. I do, however, know how to spin a compelling narrative.

I mean . . . here’s a for instance. When I moved here, I was told that it was VERY HARD to become a waitress in New York City and that to get hired you had to have New York City waiting experience. “But how,” I asked myself, “do you get New York City waiting experience unless someone hires you?” It was like that time my mom told me I couldn’t get my learner’s driving permit until I had more practice. The system was against me!

Obviously, I realized, what they were looking for were people who could creatively think themselves around this problem—this minimum wage Schrödinger's cat scenario. Obviously, what they wanted me to do was construct a resume of experience that was LOOSELY BASED on reality, full of references in another country that I knew they would be too cheap and/or lazy to check. Had I worked as a waitress before? Not in New York, but in London (true!). How long? Oh . . . a while. You know, like how long Edward has been seventeen. Where? I had prepared a well-organized paper full of places and addresses and phone numbers. Preparation! I was not an idiot. Did I actually work at those places? Were they even real? Come now. Let’s not get ourselves all wound up over nothing.

And was a good waitress? Yes! Did I return a large roll of cash I found on the floor, completely as I found it? Yes! Did I steal them blind like everyone else was doing? No! Did I scrupulously check every check to make sure it was accurate? Yes! Did ever rip off a customer, even for a single dollar? A single penny? No!

I was one of the only honest people in the building. All I had to do was convince them to hire me. These are the kinds of paradoxes you have to wrap your head around in order to achieve JOB SUCCESS!

And in several other jobs, when asked if I could do the things I was being asked to do . . . well, in some of those cases, I didn’t even know what those things were and had to Google them as soon as I left. But my answer was always, “OF COURSE I CAN.” And I said it like I meant it. Does this mean that I once almost blew up an entire magazine because the only working copy was kept on the server and could be changed by anyone, at any time (who would do this?) and I did a “change all” and basically blew up the typeface and made the layout explode? Perhaps. Perhaps I did. But I provided ADDED VALUE in many other ways, I assure you.

So, what I am saying? I am saying you must be confident when you are asked what you are capable of!



There’s usually some question in an interview that goes something like, “Why do you want to work at ________.” Unless you are crazy, or deep undercover, or are stalking another employee, the only reason you would want to work at _________ is because you would like to earn some money to buy books and feed your hamsters. And while you’ve considered selling your own organs, a job seemed like the best way of getting that money.

This is why I suggest that you shouldn’t seem CREEPILY EAGER for the job. You should seem practically eager. You should radiate: “I am a normal, non-idiot who wants this job for all the reasons you might expect. I will do it well. But I am not a freak.”

You don’t want to convey, for instance, the impression that you are just someone who really likes to fold sweaters and is just thrilled that there is a place where you can actually get paid to do it, because you have been going to all your friends’ houses and folding their sweaters for years even though they have asked you to stop! And maybe you can just fix that collar? Because your collar is just sticking up a little on the left and it is kind of freaking you out—ha ha!—and you won’t be able to concentrate until the collar is fixed so can we just stop and fix the collar before this goes any further?

This kind of thing puts the interviewer on edge.

Yes . . .but are you normal?

I hope this has been helpful! Now get out there and GET A JOB! Feel free to use me as a reference. I am a wonderful reference. Employers love to talk to me!

And remember to buy my books, because a lot of people are counting on you to keep me from coming back to their places of employment. Don’t let them down.

* Though other descriptions might spring to mind.

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Blogger celi.a said...

Great advice. I laughed several times through the reading...

11:26 PM  
Blogger Melanie said...

So I once took this class on preparing to get a job. It always struck me as funny that I was supposed to want to work someplace because obviously everyone wanted to work there, and they were just such a great place! Your approach seems a lot more realistic. :)

One question: How does one go about picking a career in case they would rather not work at a name-tag place?

11:35 PM  
Anonymous Dottie said...

You are a genius! Seriously! Wow, very long list of jobs. Now...I just need someone to give advice on actually KEEPING one for a while after I get it...Haha, this entertained me so much! Great advice!

11:42 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

MJ, this was actually REALLY helpful. I am 16 and I am just starting to look for a job for myself and this advice is really great :)

11:44 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Lol, perfection. I had a blast as a bartender after I fibbed on my application and said that I had a few years of experience mixing drinks. I failed to mention the fact that my vast knowledge of alcohol came from all the nights and weekends during my undergrad I spent drunk, making up new drinks for my friends. :)

11:55 PM  
Blogger Marvelous Maggie said...

You're just so funny. I've missed your blogs.

Okay, go write another now.

11:56 PM  
Blogger Hollishillis said...

Haha thanks Maureen. I just got a job interview (for a lame concession stand...putting my recently aquired english degree to use). But the job market is hard and at this point I can't afford to be picky. I will put your advice to good use!

12:04 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

I am in awe of your job list. I keep reading it over and over and over.

12:07 AM  
Blogger soundistheword3 said...

hahah you're hilarious! I especially love everything you wrote about the different types of bosses. I'll have to keep this all in mind when I graduate :)


12:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

for some reason, i can't quite picture you as a nanny...

1:28 AM  
Anonymous SarahE said...

I'm sitting here watching this really, terribly depressing movie with my family while I read your blog, and so I keep breaking into outbursts of semi-hysterical laughter. This is your fault. I blame you entirely. Though I do feel better about getting a job now. I'm just off to fill out all my applications now.

1:41 AM  
Anonymous Tamsin-Emillie said...

Oddly enough I am pretty sure this is almost helpful advice if decoded correctly....
My mother is in her fifties and was sure you had to be atleast 60 to have had that amount of jobs lol
atleast you have finally got one that has stuck =P

2:23 AM  
Blogger Hannah said...

This has been so helpful!

I am 17 and currently desperately searching for anywhere who want to employ me. So far, there have been few takers - but it can't be long before someone gets swine flu or loses a leg or something and therefore has to give up their job...right?

3:43 AM  
Blogger Sean said...

All these years I'd been doing it wrong. Now I expect to be hired within a week! Thanks, Maureen!

4:01 AM  
Anonymous NIKi said...

one day i will have had that many jobs... possibly...

4:06 AM  
Blogger Tenley Nadine said...

Perfect timing. I was actually going to go job hunting tomorrow.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Shakespeare said...

What would you do if someone actually put you down as a reference because you did just give the go-ahead? If you randomly got a call from some manager at Snarlbluck's wanting to know about some kid named Mike?

12:19 PM  
Anonymous HypotheticalDystopia said...

No way! This is exactly what I've been doing (unknowingly) while doing college interviews!

7:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maureen I am appling at Waldon's Books at the end of summer when I turn 18. I am so putting you on as a reference.

11:21 PM  
Blogger PaulSayThings said...

I rather enjoyed that. However I feel that this blog has now ruined me.

If I ever encounter boss type #1 during an interview, i am now likely to start laughing uncontrolably and screaming "OMG! MAUREEN WAS RIGHT!"

6:24 AM  
Blogger RKCharron said...

Hi :)
Once again couched in the wry humor are sparkling gems of wisdom.
Thank you for sharing.
I think their is a STORY behind the "fake employee" job.
All the best,

6:09 AM  
Blogger Leah said...

Wow that's a lot of jobs. I can imagine from when I was in the US that working at Jeckyll and Hyde may have been a little tiring, but I was 12 and I thought that it was the best restaurant I'd ever been to.

Also I've missed your blogs. I'd tell you to write more, but I'd like you to write more books :P

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Joey-la said...

hey Maureen,
I have a question for you

My school in Australia has a term long (8 weeks) school camp, in which you cook and share a house with 7 other 15 year olds. No facebook, twitter, blogs or anything - any advice on surviving it, or am I doomed?

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

I enjoy your job list. Some of them sound like they come with a story (the fake employee, the haunted house waitress). Would you like to tell a story? I would like to hear a story.


7:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think my obsessive reading of your blogs may be rubbing off on me. About a week ago I was riding in the car with two of my friends. We were on the way to pick up someone from the airport, so we had to sort and fold the mass amount of towels in the trunk so their luggage could fit in there. One of my friends has a little sister who adores High School Musical, so I got stuck folding the HSM towel. At the time, I had been holding a stuffed hamster that I found in the cup holder, so you can imagine my response to the towel, which was, of course, "Zac Efron eats hamsters." My friends, having no knowledge of your blog, looked at me with mild interest/concern. I had to immediately change the subject.


8:21 PM  
Blogger Moka said...

So useful, right now I'm looking for a job, but i have to write a CV and thats a little more difficult if i have to write it in italian (I'm in Italy right now).
But I'm going to think of this post while I write it.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Nadia Murti said...

Hilarious! But, um... Fake employee? In what sort of job are you a fake employee? What do you have to do for the job? You should definitely post something about your time as a "fake employee."


2:20 PM  
Anonymous Lara said...

MJ! I have a QUESTION OF MUCH IMPORT: How do you start a conversation with someone who you've been Facebook friends with for ages, but who you suddenly met up with again and was blown away by their good looks and charm and who you will not see again in person for at least a year? Do you just say "HI it was nice seeing you" or is that wayyy too lame???


3:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maureen! I went to the library today and was cheered to see not one, but two copies of the Bermudez triangle on shelves. YAY!

6:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know all about clinically insane boss, sadly. And boss who hates you for no good reason. And boss who fires you from a job you are not earning money from. And boss who... Well, let's just say I've worked a long time. Thanks for making me laugh about it. (:

9:03 AM  
Blogger Mimi Meila said...

Ha ha! I am actually going to use you as a reference one of these days! Or try to at least :P

12:35 AM  

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