There’s something profoundly unnerving to me about reaching out to someone I don’t know and asking them to talk to me. Maybe it’s simple fear of the unknown. Maybe it’s because I spent the last year interviewing for jobs like it was my job. When you are talking to strangers and practically begging them to like you, to find you worthy and even desirable, knowing you are setting yourself up for possible (and even likely) rejection, it can make you a little neurotic.
When I reach out to a stranger and ask them to help me in some way, I feel tiny and nervous and undeserving. It was like this when, for an assignment in my MFA program, I recently emailed the managing editor of a publishing house to set up an interview.
Even though my professor had already done the hard work of talking to the press and doling out contact information to us, in preparation, I read the bio of the person I was to speak with, studied the titles that her publishing house had put out recently, Googled what it meant to be a managing editor, ran through interview questions with class and had my professor review my email request to Ms. Managing Editor, in which I mentioned that I happened to have a full-time job and be a full-time student at the same time and that it might be a teensy bit challenging to find a mutually beneficial time to talk. Or something more concise than that, I hope.
I received a response from my professor indicating that I should make this managing editor feel like the most important person in the room, which was totally fine and reasonable except that it made me worried that maybe she was too busy or important to be talking to me – because who am I? – or maybe that she was actually a horrible diva or a cruel person who would tell me I was a clown and wasting her time. Oh, and also, I had misspelled my professor’s name in the email. Classy.
The email I received back from the managing editor was friendly and accommodating. She said she’d be available a bunch of times I suggested and we were able to set up an appointment right away for just two days out. When the phone rang at the appointed time, I sweatily let it ring a couple of extra times so it didn’t seem as though I’d been anxiously staring at the phone for ten minutes with my questions in hand, and answered in my attempt to sound breezy, “Hi, this is Anne?” I always do this, sounding like I’m not sure it’s actually me, but rather as if I am asking the caller to reassure me that I am myself.
Forty-five minutes later, after only casually looking at my script here and there and letting the conversation unfold naturally, we were on a first name basis and laughing while I learned that a lot of the stuff I researched was wrong, at least for her specifically at this press. She was incredibly easy to talk to, patient with my questions and completely open to follow-up. She didn’t act in the least put out and provided me with incredibly interesting information. She was kind and engaging and supportive of me and the program. When I signed off, I said in all sincerity that it was a real pleasure talking with her. I believed her when she said the same in return.
I sent a quick ‘thank you’ email the next day to which she responded, “I’m glad I could help. Good luck with the rest of your semester.”
I keep having to remind myself that damn near everyone likes to talk about themselves. God knows I do. And that all you’re doing during an interview is having a scheduled conversation with a real person. Like most things in life, it is much easier with practice. And if they’re a jack ass, you can always walk out or hang up. But chances are, you won’t want to.