Monthly Archives: May 2011

Laziness, Ignorance and Chance: the Weird Ways we Get it Right

Now that I am looking for an internship to possibly launch my glamorous and enviable career, a lot of little things are coming back to me.

Like one of the first times I was called for an interview. I had seen an advertisement on the USIU notice board  calling out for freelance writers, and I thought, ‘yeah, I could do that!’

So I sent my rookie cv and cover letter , with a sample piece I had written for my distance learning assignment, which, at the time I thought was a very clever piece. (Just like when I will read this post years from now and think, aaw, how cute.)

And then I waited. And waited. Aaaand waited.

Finally, I was called for an interview. ‘Hey, am THAT awesome- lets do this!’ I thought.

So I put on my only white shirt, a pair of odd looking pants I thought were formal, rounded off the newbie look with some inappropriate jewelery and got there on time, just like the career center advised.

I remember the reception had that nauseating chai ya maziwa kwa thermos smell and I nearly gagged as I waited for an eternity to be called into the interviewer’s office. (PowerPlay!)

Maaaan, the guy was old. And he was asking me all these questions about search engine optimization and ad words and all the shit we take for granted today, but in 2009, was cutting edge stuff. Obviously, it never occured to me to research on ‘writing for the web’ and so I fumbled around for answers- even cracked a couple of jokes. The guy was so old, it was impossible to be nervous- not even when he asked me, ‘If you love to write so much, how come you don’t have more work published?’

Good question. I still think about it today.

Then he went on to tell me that the ‘work is pretty basic, nothing special- just write 1 000 words on a destination that we give you, and you get a bob a word.’

I left, and waited for the call. It never came. Obviously, I did not impress enough to do the ‘basic work’.

A few weeks later, (or maybe months, not so sure) I saw another advert. Looking for freelancers. This one asked for an original piece to go along with the application.

This time, I was inspired. Probably smarter. Possibly a bit of both.

I wrote my article one afternoon at Fifi’s (and rewarded myself with a beer afterwards) and I have to say, it was much cheekier. A couple of days later, I got an email with a list of topics to choose from as well as instructions on how to write for the web. Pay was per articles, any discussion or consulting could be done face to face. In short, I was in. All I had to do was write, and if they liked it, they would pay.

How simple. How beautiful.

After a couple of stiff, awkward posts, I sort of got the flow. Then I was put on a monthly retainer. Yeah baby.  It was one of the best assignments of my life. The euphoria from finishing each task could have rivaled a hit of cocaine, I’m pretty sure. Eventually, the rumblings about a job offer came too.

(And then  I left for France)

Anyway, obvious differences:

Ancient guy asking for 1 000 word articles and conducting meticulous interviews. Who the hell reads 1000  word articles online? (You probably skimmed through this post, with like, five other tabs open.. )Versus, you write, if we like we pay- and keep it short and sweet.

I was still the same person, basically with the same skills- but who could make the best use of them? Who could see my potential?.

Honestly, where was I suited better? No wonder I failed the first interview- I just was not a match for the ‘mutton dressing up as lamb’ company. Thank God I wasn’t saddled with that dinosaur company: maybe by now I’d be going through three thermoses a day….

My point? Sometimes there is a good reason we fail interviews. Because it just wouldn’t work out.

Any stories about how you finally sold your souls to the corporation? Please do share

Tell Me About Yourself….and other invitations to shoot yourself in the head

This post is unashamedly about myself. In a way none of the others have been.

It started on Monday evening, when I checked my inbox and saw a magical subject line:

Phone Interview with Company X.

Wow, how incredible. Finally, someone had taken the time to open my resume and read my cover letter. Someone had decided that,

Hmm…this one seems interesting, I would like to know more.

I tripped. I was all like, ‘Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God!’

Internship/Job hunting is a lonely business.  I knew from past experience that asking for advice on how to make myself pop on paper would yield little result- I got glowing reviews after sending my package for a critical analysis, only to discover grammatical errors, uneccessary statements and a host of resume no-nos.

Despite this, I still started by consulting on the axis of evil: ‘tell me about yourself, strengths &weaknesses,  5 year plan?’

After some uninspired advice, me and my friend Google spent long nights discussing the best way to answer ‘what are your professional goals’ and ‘do you consider yourself a team player’.

Gradually, I crafted (and I do mean crafted, like lovingly molding each word as though my life depended on it) my answers. I wrote about all the teams I had been involved in- from the Chinese group members who at best had a rudimentary grasp of English, to the Morrocan no-shows, to the AIESEC teams with their all consuming energy . Yep, I had been there, and I knew my sh*t.

I read about the company’s products, asking myself which ones in specific I would be involved in, and how I could contribute. I even analysed them using a business model we learnt the other day just to have it all together.

I was ready. I drank coffee like a fiend and did some yoga stretches.

What could possibly go wrong? We began.

Here are some excerpts from my session:

HR from X: Tell me about yourself

At this moment, I looked down at my prepared answer. And I asked myself, who is this person I have described? Can I really convince HR that she exists?

And then my descent into interview nightmare began. I could hear myself rambling on about my education, my school activities. All that about slipping in your achievements and talents? Gone. Instead, a stream of words colliding into each other. I remember I mentioned leadership. And something about challenge and learning quickly. And a lot of uuuums. I mean a lot.

Then I remembered to ask, ‘Anything else you would like to know?’

HR from X: You studied at USIU, why did you not go to the States instead?

Saaaaaay, whaaaaa? It had never ever occured to me to study in the USA. Especially after I saw the school fees. Now, I could simply have said, ‘My goal was always to study in France so as to improve my french. Also, France has excellent business schools’

Nice, simple, clear.

But noo….

After uuuming for a couple of minutes I said:

‘Well, there was the recession. And to be honest I do not like US business theories. I do not like US business models. I think they are right on the line of criminality and extreme greed and generally unsustainable. I think European businesses are a lot more balanced. Oh, and I wanted to study in France because they have good schools and to learn French’

There you have it- the birth of Comrade Wairish.

Somwhere in the middle of my ramblings, I mentioned I blog. She honed in on that and asked, ‘Is the address on your CV?’

I told her that I have one on my cv, but it contains the ‘professional’ stuff I did when I was in Kenya. (because apparently people sometimes google you before an interview, and I thought it would be nice to have something other than my tweets and FB profile out there)

She asked if I could send her the link and I told her it’s personal. (Then why did I bring it up? *Facepalm*)

HR from X: You know it is easy to find things online!

Was that a threat? 

Then came: What are you planning to do after you graduate?

Me:I want to stay in France for at least a year.

HR X: But you know this internship is only for six months?

Me: Yes I know, ideally I would like to be here for a year, but I need a minimum of six months to graduate. But I really like the JD.

HR X: So what do you want? Do you want to stay for a year or not?

Me: Look, I can see that your internship is for six months. I applied because I like the JD. It is fine, I am flexible

Can you hear the nails in the coffin yet?

My enthusiasm cooled down after she gave me the ‘stipend’ figures. Bonus included, living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, I would have to live on bread and water. And not buy any new clothes ever. And probably try to ride the buses for free.

Despite everything I still feel euphoric. I don’t know if it’s the after effects of a liter of coffee, or the excitement that I finally had an interview. Anyway, I’m going to send my thank you letter, and really mean it- the practice was invaluable.

And as, we say, the game ain’t over until this fat lady sings.

Aluta continua!