One Guy's Outlook

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Thwarting Murphy, landing job

There is nothing like a successful job interview to cement the bond between a possible employer and the worker hoping to become gainfully employed. The interview is one of the most important parts of the hiring process, where you are judged on how well the employer feels you can interact with the other workers and do the job. I really wish I had one of those successful interviews when I was called into the Pilot-Tribune.

It is possible I am being too hard on myself. I must have said something right because here I am. Still, in my opinion, I did not get the job because of the interview but in spite of it.

Mr. Murphy of Murphy's Law fame decided to pay an unexpected visit the day before I was scheduled to make the five-hour trek from Moline, Ill. to Storm Lake. That minor cough that had been bugging me for a few days turned into the full-blown flu. Not just the normal flu. It was that special kind of flu where everything seems distant, where you aren't asleep but not really awake. My head was also completely stuffed up, making hearing difficult. I think I was almost yelling as I spoke.

I can imagine Editor Dana Larsen's impression upon seeing an obvious space case with bloodshot eyes and a red nose coming in to interview, not even dropping his winter coat because of the chills, yelling the response to every question. I just hoped I wasn't contagious.

In the calm, professional manner of most journalists, Mr. Larsen patiently asked questions about my writing history. As I struggled to answer, I discovered the flu was also playing havoc with my memory.

"I did a series of stories about the defunding of a government assisted low income housing complex in Washington, Iowa called HACAP," I answered one of his questions. "HACAP stands for Hawkeye Area... err... ahh....ummm..."

Sitting here right now I have no trouble remembering "Hawkeye Area Community Assistance Program." At the time, getting my brain to kick in was a chore and not tripping over my tongue was impossible. With every question I struggled to answer, I seemed to be running into a wall.

I knew I had the qualifications for the job. I have a bachelor's degree in communications from Teikyo Marycrest University in Davenport, that I mentioned in the interview, trying to figure out how to avoid telling Mr. Larsen I became interested in journalism due to a cute female teacher. I have also been working as a reporter for about 10 years. After college I worked as a stringer for the Rock Island Argus, doing the stories the other reporters felt was a waste of their time. From there I became an assistant editor for Terry Newspapers. After leaving the three weekly publications after three years of work and a brief stint as editor, I moved to Galesburg, Ill. As a staff reporter for The Register-Mail I covered mostly government and police. One morning while I was on duty, Galesburg became a national topic when the Maytag Corporation announced it was closing its Galesburg facility and moving to Reynosa, Mexico, putting about 2,300 workers in the unemployment line. I won the first of my state awards and my only national award for coverage of the day's announcement. After a short job in Washington, where I learned I like small-town reporting better than reporting in larger areas, I came to Storm Lake to interview. That interview was not going the way I wanted it to.

Ironically, I have written articles about how to apply and interview for a job. When a Galesburg personnel manager had told me about the interview where he asked a candidate to talk about himself and got the answer, "I'm just here to get a job," I didn't think it could get worse. I was wrong.

After about 20 minutes, Mr. Larsen said I had answered all of his questions. Most interviews last well over an hour. I figured I had blown it. Back to the drawing board.

I went back to Moline and, after a few days of recovery, I told my friends about the Cheech and Chong act I pulled during the interview.

"Tell me about your credentials."

"Ah, isn't it on the resume dude?"

I could have been knocked over with a feather when Mr. Larsen called and made me an offer. After about a week of finding an apartment and moving, my first day is here.

The moral of the story: a new reporter's first assignment is always to write a column about themselves.

* David Hotle can be reached as dhotle@stormlakepilottribune.com