“Tell me about yourself”

Sorry I haven’t posted in a few days; I had company for my birthday over the holiday weekend.  Now I’m back at the old keyboard!

Don’t you love the questions they ask in job interviews?  Some of them are really difficult to answer if you’re not on the career track you’d like to be.  If you’re a new graduate with no experience, it gets even harder.

Most writers don’t get to quit their day jobs, at least not right away.  Freelance writers already have a job, but during tough times they might have to suck it up and work outside their field for a while.  The economy won’t be better for a while yet, sorry to say.  So most of us have to peck out our novels between the eight-to-five slog, on our lunch hours and evenings and weekends.

This is what interviewers want:

  • Tell me about yourself. They want to know if you’re the best person for the position.  They don’t care if you collect those atrocious Precious Moments things.  Keep it about work.
  • What’s your biggest strength? Anything that relates to the job is good.
  • What’s your biggest weakness? An elimination question.  A good answer is that you have something you’re either working to or have already overcome.  This makes you look like a problem-solver.
  • Where do you see yourself in five years? They’re looking for someone who will stick around, because it costs more to hire and train someone.  That’s why companies like to promote from within.  Unfortunately, it’s now rare instead of common for people to stay at one place for that long.  I usually average about four myself.

Sometimes you interview for something you know you’re not going to get, or wouldn’t want to do even if they begged you.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could answer those questions the way you want to?

  • Tell me about yourself. I love to read, nap and watch daytime TV.  In my spare time I sniff glue.
  • What’s your biggest strength? Well, it used to be my enthusiasm, but since this ain’t what I really want to do, I don’t give a crap.
  • What’s your biggest weakness? I hate to get up earlier than eight a.m. or go to bed before eleven.  If I could work, say, nine to noon for the same pay and then go home, that’d be just great.
  • Where do you see yourself in five years? As a cowboy in Argentina, sipping mate and herding cattle and writing about it.

For writers, my ideal day job is one that:

  • Pays the bills. Yes, that’s why we work, people.  Those who get to do what they like and can pay the bills that way are trés lucky.
  • Allows time to think/plan/daydream. Example: mindless tasks during the day give your brain a rest and let you think about what happens next in your book, or sort through your impressions of the day.  Too many interruptions make you frazzled and sap energy.  When it’s time to write, it’s harder to sit down and concentrate.
  • Is interesting enough to keep you engaged at least part of the time. For example, dealing with a variety of people or tasks instead of doing the same thing every day keeps your brain busy and gives you chances to think outside the box once in a while.

I had a temp job once at a personal products factory that was horribly repetitive—putting scented bath salts in tiny plastic bags for eight hours—but the supervisors let the line workers talk.  We had some excellent discussions and everyone worked together much better than if we’d had to stay quiet.  I actually requested the job again if there were openings while I was still temping.

Even if you love your job and don’t plan to leave, everyone can use new challenges.   So we might have to keep working until our books hit, but there are ways to keep ourselves from being bored or burning out.  If you’ve found some, please share in the comments.

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4 thoughts on ““Tell me about yourself”

  1. I enjoyed your section on what you would like to say. I have trouble answering the question about where you see yourself in the next five years. My answer would be “hopefully still employed”. Needless to say I’m still working on that answer.

    • Me too; I hate when they ask it for some monkey job that everyone including the interviewer knows no one ever stays in. “Oh yeah, I still want to be sweeping up for minimum wage, paying $10 a month on my thousands of dollars in school loans, and praying to die!”

  2. I still like my answer to “What is your biggest weakness?” – “I eat babies and hunt kittens for sport. It’s not that I don’t like them… but they’re easier to catch and you can hit more of them in a single shot.”

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