Friday, April 15, 2011

Test Your Integrity

just finished reading Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr. If you’re an aspiring poet or essayist, a lapsed church-goer or doubting Believer, a recovering alcoholic or recovering from a tragic childhood, you should read this. I don’t fall into any of those categories and I still inhaled the book, just as I did Karr’s earlier memoirs, The Liars’ Club and Cherry.

The other night as I was applying for a job online, this passage from Lit came to mind:

“I need his unbudgeable integrity. I mean, when a big-deal magazine requested changing some of his poems, he pulled them rather than compromise. I’d have typed mine backward in Urdu to see them into print.”

Some folks fudge their work history just to land the position. I’m not one of them. In fact, I probably (stupidly) err on the side of modesty about my skills and experience. So when I got to this question in the application for a university job—
How many years of clerical/administrative experience do you have working in an academic setting?
—my answer was easy: I’ve never worked in an academic setting.

Except, of course, it wasn’t easy. I had to choose from this multiple-choice list of answers:
No Response
More than 0, up through 1 yr

More than 1 yr, up through 3 yrs

More than 3 yrs, up through 5 yrs

More than 5 years

This hardly seemed like a deal-breaker question, but university applications contain all sorts of warnings about being factual and truthful and passing background checks and drug screenings and if I lie about ANYTHING at all the consequences will be yada yada yada. In truth, I HAVE worked in an academic setting if you count the time I spent teaching high-schoolers. But because the job ad stated a “scholarly” background is preferred, I assume the question refers to the college-level community. So which answer would you choose?

I selected “No Response” and continued with the process. But when I was finished, a red warning popped up telling me my application was incomplete. I had “not answered” the very question that had stumped me.

Well, technically, I guess No Response is not an answer. But why in bloody Hell is it listed and formatted as if it were? The problem isn’t my integrity; the problem is a writer’s inability to form sensible questions with appropriate multiple-choice answers.

So I selected the next answer on the list—“More than 0, up through 1 yr”—then addressed the matter (as vaguely as possible so as not to offend anyone) in my cover letter.

What would you have done?

[Drop cap by Jessica Hische.]

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