Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Apply Yourself

This one time, I applied for a music theory teaching position at the college I went to. I received the nicest possible rejection letter from my former professor, thanking me for applying and delighting in the fact that he saw a familiar name among the applicants. He informed me that they didn't interview anyone for the position who didn't have a doctorate...which I rather expected... in music theory...which I did not.

In response to this very kind professor's attempt to let me down easy, a task that no good person takes pleasure in, I said that I'd never gotten a job that I hadn't applied for, and while sorry that I had wasted the committee's time, I wasn't that sorry. Or something like that.

If that had been my entire experience with applying for jobs that I had no business applying for, this wouldn't be much of a post. As it happens, however, around the same time I also applied to be the director of the Hershey Symphony Chorus--an ensemble that at the time didn't exist. If you noticed a wee little gap in Slackerguide posts last spring, I can provide you with the excuse: The Hershey Symphony Chorus does now exist, and I landed the job as director, although not necessarily in that order.

Still not much of a post there, but once you have a job like that it's all about the shameless promotion. Related: If you have a larynx and can be in Hershey for about a dozen evenings in spring of 2017, we should talk.

The frightening truth is that applying for stuff is every bit as important as everything it takes to become qualified for that stuff. Having served on scholarship committees and hiring committees, I can tell you that sometimes there is such a wealth of qualified and appealing applicants that you're stuck just sort of picking one. At other times, you keep looking through the stack hoping there was a great one that you just shuffled past by accident. I can also tell you that that guy who gets up at awards night to receive thirty scholarships and awards probably applied for 300.

Whether I've so far convinced you of my general thesis, or you're one of those folks who just skip to the list (Hi, Kayla!), here are some handy tips:
  1. Apply for jobs you're not qualified for. - Not all of them for sure, but it turns out that men will apply for a job for which they're 60% qualified, women only if they're 100%. Rather than gain 40% more qualifications, I recommend applying like a man.  
  2. Neatness counts. - Sorry, but the application process is essentially distilling your entire self down to a single document. Type carfully.   
  3. Get help. - I applied for something like 100 jobs when I was first trying to land a job as a teacher. By "I applied" I mean that my then girlfriend (now wife, not coincidentally) painstakingly typed each individual application on a typewriter, moving the paper around to try to squash my entire transcript into the space provided--usually something like this: ________ . If you talk real nice, you may even find a ghost writer for your essays--though I never did that. Avid Slacker Guide readers know that throwing together a couple of thousand words isn't really a burden for me. 
  4. Apply for jobs that don't exist yet. - Yeah, probably not all the time, but if you see a need in the world, maybe others see it too and you can get in on something just as it's getting started. Making a job while trying to do that job isn't the easiest thing in the world, but the competition for non-existent jobs is way lighter.
  5. Gossip. - One of my axioms in the job search realm: Movement begets movement. In other words, an opening in one district (department, company, whatever may apply in your own case) may not be so appealing, or practical, but the person who fills that position may leave something more suitable. Finding out about openings that you're not interested in/qualified for sets you up for the next opening in the series of events. Scholarships have a corollary in that not all are well-advertised. Keep in mind, information works best as a two-way street, even if you are tempted to keep the best opportunities to yourself. On the other hand, if there is a scholarship for children of miners, who live in Shickshinny, who happen to be of Welsh descent, maybe pass that along in hopes of landing something a little less targeted. 
Full disclosure: this will mostly end in disappointment. In addition to that college teaching job I mentioned at the beginning, I have both breadth and depth of experience in rejection. I won't catalog all of them for you--in part because I have remarkable powers of amnesia where this kind of thing is concerned--but if you want to see what it might look like, check out this.

And yet, we must do it anyway. Nothing ventured, nothing gained; if at first you don't succeed, try, try again; God never closes a door without opening a window; opportunity knocks only once; and any number of additional horrifying sayings that they used to hang in guidance counselor offices--back when we could call them "guidance counselors." Fear of rejection is powerful, but it needs to be overcome with a greater fear: the fear that some other schlump is going to get something you're way more qualified for.

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