If You’re So Damn Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
My education has been a constant hindrance to me in the United States. When I only had a Masters Degree in English, a career counselor advised me to remove that credential from my résumé.
“Advanced education frightens employers,” he warned. “And try not to appear too intelligent if you land an interview.”
If I land an interview. Indeed, I had faxed, emailed, and snail-mailed thousands of résumés in the last two months. Only bill collectors called me. That’s what led me to the Career Center at my old university, and this grad student, who was slashing my cover letter with his red pen.
“This letter is too well written.” He fiddled with the pen as he read.
“I’m sorry?” I must have misheard. This wasn’t a criticism I’d heard before.
“I mean, you sum yourself up completely in just a few paragraphs,” he reprimanded, “and you make yourself sound really impressive,” he further complained. He was looking at me like I was lacking in vital common sense. His brow was literally furrowed.
“Well, I’m trying to sell myself,” I argued.
“Yeah, man,” he was talking to me like a child, very slowly, “but you don’t want to sound more impressive than your potential employer. Ya know?”
So, he counseled me. So, he counseled me. He covered my letter with his red notes.
Too smart! Too many syllables! Don’t be so smart!
He crossed out entire sentences. He rewrote my opening. The new letter was a half page grocery list. It mentioned where I had seen the advertisement for the job, two or three skills I had mastered—minor skills, and closed with an ass kissing: thank you for your valuable time, sincerely.
My education didn’t make the cut in the cover letter either.
“Just tell them you only have a B.A.,” my counselor advised. “And tell them you’re thinking about going for a Masters. They like that. They’ll see you as a project—an investment that may pay off for them. You want to be ambitious, not an overachiever. You don’t want to threaten any egos.”
I suddenly thought about a passage from Walt Whitman, something about a slave at auction, but I wiped that aside and took my improved résumé and cover letter home.
Three weeks, and several hundred faxes and emails, later—a phone call. A bored sounding man named John wanted to interview me to be something called a billing specialist. He did most of the talking.
“I know you answered an ad for an administrative assistant job, but we need a billing specialist.” I could hear him multitasking while he talked. “Can you come in tomorrow at two?”
“Yes.” There was nothing on my schedule.
He gave me the address, “see you then,” and hung up the phone.
And I had an interview! After months of newspapers and internet job banks, fax after e-mail, after fax fax fax…finally, someone had noticed me! They had looked at the thousands of résumés they get a day, seen mine, and said, “This one. This is the one who will get a chance to return to the living. He will get to go out for a beer with his friends again! Call him in!” There was much fanfare.
And for good reason, I mean, in a way, I had already won, right? Now, all I had to do was go to John Something-or-Other’s office, be slightly unimpressive yet capable, and I will surely get the job. I hope.
So, I did that. I was marginally impressive while I catered to John’s ego. He was the alpha of the room. When he noted my Bachelors Degree, he referenced his dissatisfaction with his two semesters of community college.
“I learned all I needed to know in high school, ya know,” he argued. “I wanted to make money.” He leaned back in his smug lumbar-supporting executive chair.
I agreed with him. “Yeah, I just graduated to make my mom happy,” I smirked. “I barely made it through, and I’d never go back.”
“I hear ya, bro.” He seemed pleased. The anti-intellectual angle actually worked. Thank you, career counselor! I think John wanted to high-five me, but he decided against it.
“A lot of hot chicks at a college though, huh?” He added. I had to think quickly.
“Oh, yeah. Totally.”
He laughed. He shook my hand as he showed me to the door. He said he had several interviews lined up for the rest of today and tomorrow, but he’d call me by Friday.
I followed up. I wrote a simple letter—not too smart-sounding—and faxed it to his office first thing Monday morning. He hired me the next day.
“It was like a dog race.” John was introducing me to my fellow employees. It was my first day. “I told all the candidates that I would let them know on Friday.” He was laughing. “Then I didn’t call any of them. Hahaha.” He turned to me and smacked me on the shoulder. “I decided I would give the job to the first person who called me on Monday.” He snapped his fingers, several time, rapidly. “Ya know, show some initiative.” He smiled in my direction. “And do you know what Charlie did?” I think he was tearing up. “This man didn’t just call me; he wrote me an awesome follow-up letter! He faxed it to me while I was preparing my coffee.” He turned to me. “That really impressed me, man.”
I couldn’t believe it. We were having a moment. He was trying to bond with me. I played along.
“Well, John, we had such a great talk about my college experience, I couldn’t wait to become part of your team.” Stroke that ego.
John glowed over my inside reference to our tits and ass interview banter. He smiled his best Anthony-Robbins-radioactive smile.—be the giant!
“Yes, we did, brother.” He clasped my hand and shook it hard. “Anyway, everyone, this is Charlie. Charlie, this is the office.”
The office peppered me with unenthused greetings.
“…up Chuck, get it?”
I said the only thing I could think to say.
They filed back to their cubicles like cleaned-up zombies. A very nice middle-aged woman named Marie trained me. My training took two hours. My workday was eight hours of punching numbers into a spreadsheet from a stack of index cards—a minuscule part of a larger billing process—but hey, I was a specialist!
So, of course, I finished my stack in three hours. I am an efficient billing specialist. When I asked for more work, it caused a stir. I was sent back to my cubby to re-read the training manual, and I was told to “work slower tomorrow.”
Six months later, I was bored to depression, but at least I was employed.
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