Friday, August 19, 2011

Gambling for a Job

ay back when, in the 1980s, I met numerous people (most of them actors) who lied in order to clinch a job. They “embellished” their computer expertise (that is, they said they knew how to operate one when they didn’t), and it worked for all of them. They acquired their computer skills successfully while on the jobs, and their organizations benefited from their employment.

This was concurrently appalling and revelatory news to me. It never occurred to me that you could pretend to be the employee the employer wanted in the interview and then become that ideal employee once in the job. It’s not in my nature to pass myself off as someone I’m not.

The job market is much tougher now and those ’80s shenanigans are harder to pull off. I wonder how many job-seekers are willing to lie if it gets them through a door. I wonder how many succeed.

I did something similar once, though I put no one except myself at risk.

I was auditioning for a small-town production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown and was slated to read for one of the girl parts. But I didn’t want to be a girl. I wanted to be the DOG. The director was auditioning only men for the role of Snoopy, so I knew I was not only up against worthy talent, but up against a prejudiced vision as well.

I thought long and hard about how much I wanted the role and how competitive I would have to be to win it. Was I up to the task?

I hatched a plan so antithetical to my personality that I still marvel at it: I schemed to throw my audition. I would purposely botch my reading for a girl part and finagle an audition for Snoopy, during which I had to be so sensational that no one could imagine anyone else in the role.

The first part of my plan—botching the audition—was the worst. Being a failure and seeing it reflected in the faces of an audience would be humiliating. It would knock me out of the running for all the human characters in the musical and, if the second part of my plan didn’t work, would knock me out of the show completely. What’s more, my plan was a little lean on detail. I had no idea how to wheedle that second audition. Fortunately, the director ended up relieving me of this concern.

The night of the callbacks (callbacks are the repeat auditions for a select number of actors who make the first cut—much like second and third interviews in a job hunt), after the director had seen all he intended to, he asked if anyone wanted to read for a part they hadn’t yet been asked to read for. My hand shot up.

I performed my song-and-dance routine. I gave it my all and had a great time doing it. By the time I finished, it didn’t matter anymore whether I’d changed the director’s mind or didn’t get cast. What mattered was that I had done everything in my power to attain a goal. I had lived through humiliation and stepped outside my comfort zone. I felt changed … enhanced, somehow … new.

Though searching for employment in today’s economy is soul-breaking work, I would never advise you to compromise your integrity for a paycheck. But stretching boundaries and going for a long-shot dream job? Absolutely. The preparation you’ll undergo to make others believe in you can make you believe in yourself. And that’s worth more than any job.

That’s what I thought, anyway, after auditioning for the musical. I was okay with not getting a part. But when the cast was announced, it seemed the director had reconsidered his gender-biased notion of Snoopy.

I became a long-eared pooch for an entire summer. My high-risk gamble for a job with no pay paid off.

[See more designs by Alejandro Paul.]

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