The Littoral Life: Learning to Apply Myself

By Dan Haag

My high school guidance counselor said that the key to gainful employment was filling out as many job applications as possible, treating it as exploration. Theoretically, I would have the luxury of picking and choosing when employers came-a-courtin’. Since then, my application and interview portfolio is anything but boring.
I once applied to NASA’s public relations division and talked with a gentleman who sounded a lot like Tommy Lee Jones. He made me extremely nervous with his terse questions that all began by him calling me “son.” After assuring me that multiple viewings of “Apollo 13” didn’t qualify me to represent the space program, we amicably parted ways.
I interviewed with the Library of Congress’ archives department. It was a conference call in which several people around a speaker phone took turns quizzing me on things like the Dewey Decimal System. I spoke as clearly and concisely as one can while lounging on a couch in pajamas and was told I was a position finalist. I assume “finalist” meant my application was stored away in an underground government warehouse to be archived by their actual hire.

There was an interview with the National Park Service to manage the historical park and war memorial on the island of Saipan. Being a history major, I was intrigued by this until the ranger I spoke with spent our time together listing all of the different ways I might die during a typical workday: malaria, snakes, tidal waves, sharks and unexploded ordnances being just a few of the things mentioned.
I took an interview on Maui to work for the Red Cross’ anti-smoking campaign. It featured two things I can really get behind: preventing smoking and doing it on Maui’s beaches. The interview went well, my credentials impressed, and I connected well with the interviewers. Alas, I never heard back. Why, Red Cross of Maui, why don’t you call? Was it something I said? It’s not you, it’s me! Can we at least be friends?
I filled out a rather thick application packet to work as the educational assistant at the World War II Museum in New Orleans. The materials featured sets of photos I had to identify and discuss. I sat up all night finishing them and sent them in the next day. Shortly thereafter, Hurricane Katrina hit. I waited, knowing I might never hear back. But a month later the phone rang. On the other end was a genteel southern man who explained that while my application was extremely impressive, the department I had applied to work in was being re-organized because it had – and I quote – “blown away.”
In 2009, I interviewed with the FBI for an analyst position. I went to the Portland field office in my best (only) tie and waited nervously until summoned. The eight interviewers took turns grilling me and I did my best to not look uncomfortable about the fact they were all armed. I held my own until a stern-looking man out of a central-casting call for “tough, no-nonsense federal agent” hit me with a stumper: why did I want to work for the FBI? I fought for a response: I wanted to fight evil-doers, I wanted nab Osama, I wanted to meet Mulder and Scully all crossed my mind. In the end, I mumbled something about “doing some good,” which is far less impressive than it sounds. Though they passed on me, I didn’t come away empty-handed. I get to say “I interviewed for a job with the FBI” until the day I die, which is pretty cool.
There are “safety applications,” much like college applications. You don’t really want to fill them out, but you figure they are such a sure thing, you will at least have a fall-back. Such was the case when I applied at Linfield College, my Alma mater, to work as an admissions representative. Since I had recently graduated from there, I rationalized that would be more than enough to land the job.
When I spoke to an interviewer over the phone, everything seemed to be going well until he shuffled some papers and cleared his throat. Something was coming, and I knew I wouldn’t like it. “I have concerns about your academic credentials,” he said. With grace and poise, I answered “Huh?”
“Your academic credentials,” he repeated. “They just aren’t what we are looking for.” I found this strange, especially since my academic credentials came from the very institution at which I was applying for a job. I had the stack of financial aid receipts to prove it.
“Seriously?” I asked. Missing the irony, Mr. Interviewer made a sound like an exasperated parent and deadpanned “Your academic credentials aren’t up to Linfield’s standards.” He suggested I get my MA and reapply for the position. I thanked him, hung up, and suggested he take a long, hot trip in an extreme southerly direction.
Job-hunting is adventurous. For brief moments while filling out scores of applications, you get to imagine yourself as someone else: astronaut, botanist, chef, federal agent.
For those with wandering imaginations, it’s incredibly gratifying that, if your application lands on someone’s desk, perhaps they’ll see you that way as well.
In the end, my full-time job as husband and dog-toy-thrower-guy are extremely rewarding. I only occasionally have to fill out paperwork and my credentials are just fine.