On the Job Huntby Mary E. Mann
Ah, Mediabistro, my old friend. After months of constant scrolling down your minimalist and chronologically-ordered page, I still feel a distance between us. Despite the inordinate amount of time we’ve spent together, you remain an enigma. Where does my resume go once you ingest it? What happens to all the cover letters I have sweated over before neatly uploading them to your latest job opening? When, my dear Mediabistro, will you take all I’ve given you and turn it into a job?
Mediabistro is the go-to job site for aspiring journalists, and arguably my first friend in New York. We spend far too much time together. Every week for the last two months I have applied to a handful of jobs from the site. As the new year turned, I continued to hunt with renewed vigor. 2011 would be our year—Mediabistro and me.
I began looking for jobs midway through a beloved internship that I’d gotten a few days after moving to New York. I went at the search with fervor, determined to find a job that I would feel passionate and excited about. Yes, I want to be a vertical reporter for the Huffington Post! Absolutely, I want to be an assistant editor at Vanity Fair!
For each job that I applied to, I would spend hours lovingly crafting a cover letter that I felt highlighted my skills and drive perfectly. So convincing was my writing that I persuaded myself that I was perfect for the “job of the day.” By the time I sent the letter, along with a highly polished resume, I was already seeing myself in the office concerned, bent over a computer, flying fingers churning out articles to critical acclaim.
And then—nothing. At first I was confused—perhaps my sparkling cover letter had not been received. I did what I was later advised never to do: I called the office of a hiring manager. I got an answering machine, and left a message that was far too long, rambling on about how much I would like to work for said company, and assuring them they could “just call me, anytime.” Red-faced, I hung up, and hid my cell phone from my own sight in shame. I never did hear from that particular publication.
I never heard from many. Mediabistro was a job graveyard for me. Sending in cover letters began to feel like shoveling coal into a fire. I heaped more resumes on. Perhaps if I could just make the fire big enough, and hot enough, someone would see it, and I would be saved.
Eventually, a response came through. It was a marketing magazine, which I had applied to on a whim, figuring that writing is writing, even if it was writing about market analysis.
Overly excited, I dressed in a three-piece suit that I bought on a sweaty day in Vietnam last summer. I slipped on heels that I knew gave me blisters. I felt stiff and awkward, and hoped I didn’t look it.
I stepped off of the elevator and was told by the receptionist to wait in the anteroom. While I waited, I picked up a marketing magazine and began to read. Or, I tried to anyway. My eyes were slightly glazed when the woman doing the interview came in to get me.
She reached to shake my hand. I stood and took her hand at the same time, losing balance on the tips of my heels. Her grip kept me from falling backward, and I quickly righted myself. She raised an eyebrow.
I did not get that job. In retrospect, it was only fair—how could I write for a magazine that I couldn’t even bring myself to read?
A few more interviews came, and went. A few more afternoons spent rehearsing things to say as I walked the dull streets of midtown. A few more sleepless nights, reaching for my computer every hour or so to fix a glitch I had just thought of on my resume. A few more mornings waking up with stress knots in my shoulders that made me look and feel like Quasimodo.
But there were no jobs.
Or, there were, according to Mediabistro, but apparently there just weren’t any for me specifically. Someone was getting these jobs. Irrationally, I became very angry at these specters, strangers out to steal my livelihood.
And then a job came up at the weekly I interned for. It was a perfect, golden job as an assistant editor for a very successful publication. The weekly was not only a place where I would be proud to work; it was also staffed by a fantastic group of people. I jumped at the opportunity, spending an entire day on a cover letter that I emailed to friends for editing and feedback. After hurried checks and rechecks, I sent it. I sat on my hands and waited.
And so did one of my best friends, we’ll call her Polly, also an intern at the same weekly, also desperate for a job. The specter that could steal my job now had a face, and a name—she was, in fact, an important component of my newly-formed New York support network. And she was my enemy.
These thoughts warred within me, and I avoided my friend and competitor for a week, ignoring her calls. The night before my interview, I was sleepless. I lay in bed at three in the morning, thinking about my dream job, and convincing myself that Polly was much more likely than I to get it. I thought myself into tears, and finally sleep. In the morning, cleansed by tears, I felt oddly redeemed. I hummed “Que Sera, Sera” as I dressed. Before I left, I wrote Polly an e-mail, just a few lines, saying what I had been too afraid to say aloud. I finished with:
“Whatever happens with this damn job already, I love you.”
I felt okay then, and went to the interview. It went well—at least I thought so. I didn’t teeter on my heels, drop anything, curse unwittingly, or forget to have anything planned to say when the managing editor asked at the end if I had any more questions.
Polly had her interview too, and we went out for a drink after we were both done, shaking off the specters we had become for each other. Then we waited.
Three days after Christmas, trapped in Missouri because of the epic New York Blizzard of 2010, I received an e-mail saying that, “despite my strong resume,” they had decided on someone else. I cried—the resume comment thrown in to soften the blow couldn’t change the fact that I had lost a possible future, one I had tried to will into existence through turn of phrase and a well-chosen font.
There was a second e-mail in my inbox, this one from Polly. She hadn’t gotten the job either. And I shed a few more tears, for my friend. She would have been great at it. We both would have.
I am ambitious, but I also love, and Mediabistro, as close as we were, could never see that side of me. And for a moment, I almost lost it in myself. My life might have been better if I had gotten that job, or it might have been worse—there’s no way to know. But today, as I wander the streets of Chinatown with Polly, kvetching about our current job searches, eating $1 dumplings, and laughing at each other’s dumb jokes, it feels pretty good. And that’s enough.