Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Audition, The Interview, The Performance -- A How-To Post

Because I really know about these subjects.


Not exactly.

But, that has never stopped me from writing about stuff before.

Please know that I mean this all in good fun.  I am no expert.  I have been a SAHM for 25 years, after all.  I'm the furthest thing in the world from a career coach.

So, here goes.

Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, between 5th and 6th grades, I auditioned for the part of Dorothy in the summer school production of "The Wizard Of Oz".  I got it, too.  And, incidentally, so did the other two little girls who were auditioning for it.  The drama teacher was such a sweet man that he couldn't bring himself to choose just one of us.  So, he chose all three of us and divvied up the scenes.  Who, you may ask, got to sing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow"?  ALL of us.  For that particular scene -- the highlight of the play -- there were three Dorothy's onstage singing their hearts out.  But, ya know, I still had to audition.  So, there's that.

The second thing that "qualifies" me to discuss this topic with you is that I used to sing a lot with my sisters.  We performed at church and in high school shows and at family holiday parties.  I don't suppose we really had to audition much for these affairs.  I don't really remember.  We may have had to audition for the high school shows.  And -- lest you may misunderstand -- there was A LOT of pressure involved in these performances.  You see, I am the oldest of the three "Argenti Sisters" -- Marla, Diana, and Gina.  You may think the fact that I am the oldest resulted in my being in charge, but you would be wrong.  My youngest sister -- Gina -- was in charge, because she was the best musician.  She still is.  And she was quite the task-master.  One time, she actually kicked Diana for hitting a few wrong notes.  That's right, Gina KICKED Diana.  There we were, singing along, Gina strumming on her guitar, when Diana hit a few wrong notes.  Gina's foot suddenly swung out and nailed Diana in the shin.  Needless to say, there was a bit of a girl fight that resulted.  But, in the end, the show went on.  And Diana didn't hit any wrong notes.  So, if you don't think I know about the pressure of performance?  Believe me, baby, I KNOW.

Then there was the time that I talked my best friend into trying out for the pom-pom girl squad in high school.  And no, we did not "hang" with that crowd.  Not at all.  The pom-pom girls and the football players sat at the tables in the middle of the quad at lunch.  My best friend and I sat on the steps which surrounded the quad.  I was basically a nerd in high school.  Totally.  I wore no make-up, styled my hair back so it wouldn't get in my way during chemistry lab, had no clue about fashion, studied all the time, and got A's.  This is not to brag.  I was just too scared to talk to a football player.  What would I say to him?  I had no idea.  The mere thought of speaking to a football player made my heart race.  So, I studied.  It was default mode.  And because I studied out of fear of talking to a football player, I got straight A's.   If I could have figured out how to talk to the football players, I probably would have gotten C's.

So, why in the hell did I talk my best friend into trying out for the pom-pom girl squad?  I really don't know.  Sometimes, I just get these crazy ideas.  They just pop into my head.  And it just so happened that, one day, I heard the announcement that there would be try-outs and it just seemed -- in the moment -- like the thing to do.  My friend thought I was nuts.  And she was probably right.  But, for some reason known only to her, she went along with me.  We dutifully went to all the after-school practices.  We practiced and practiced and practiced.  There were bruises all over the backs of my thighs from attempting to force myself into the splits.  It was exhausting.  And I have to tell you -- I came to truly respect and admire and hero-worship pom-pom girls.  If there are any pom-pom girls reading this, I bow down to you.  You are amazing.

How did the real pom-pom girls react to my friend and I trying out for the squad?  They were actually quite lovely about it.  A little mystified, perhaps.  But, lovely.

Anyway, the big day came to actually try out in front of the judges.  Who were the judges?  There was the school dance teacher, who was also the head coach of the pom-pom girls, and a few other teachers.  My friend and I went into the room.  We were ready.  I felt calm in mind and body.  We began.  All was going well until -- until -- we made a mistake.  There were two pom-poms in a little pile on the floor.  I was supposed to pick one up and pass it to my friend -- all the while shaking my booty in some fashion -- and then pick up the other one for myself.  Well, I accidentally picked up both of them and handed them to my friend.  Then we sort of panicked.  Then we sort of blew it.  Completely and totally.  Needless to say, we didn't become pom-pom girls that day.  My friend was pretty embarrassed.  I, too, was embarrassed.  But, I have a policy.   Do you know what it is?  "Never let them see you sweat."  Hold your head high, baby.  Especially after a major mortification.  Smile, breathe, and hold your head high.  And try to walk away without tripping over a curb or crashing into a trash can.  Dignity.  Always dignity.  Oh -- one other thing to remember after a mortification such as this one -- be genuinely happy for and sincerely congratulate the victors, and spend more time doing those things than feeling sorry for yourself.

So, I guess that's the first part of my advice.  When you screw up in an audition or an interview or a performance -- which we all do -- have some perspective on yourself.  Have a little humility.  Learn from the experience and move on.  And behave graciously -- toward those who have given you the opportunity, toward those who are judging you, toward those who have beaten you out.  Why?  Because -- first and most importantly -- it is the right thing to do.  It is what a person of good character does.  Secondly -- and I don't mean this to sound self-serving, though it probably is -- behaving graciously will get you remembered, in a good way.  Behaving graciously might lead to another opportunity.  It may seem like a cliche, but how you behave in defeat truly does say more about you than how you behave in victory.  It might show some important person that -- hey -- you just may be somebody to take a chance on, somebody worth working with.  So, don't be a douche in defeat.  And don't go to the bar after your bad experience and whine to your pals about how it wasn't fair or somebody wasn't nice, because it will get around -- especially if the type of work you do is done in the midst of a relatively tight-knit community.  Maybe your trusted friends will keep your confidence, but people in bars have big ears, and somebody just might hear you complaining.  Okay.  I admit it.  We all need to whine, sometimes.  So,  if you need to whine, go home, pour a Dr. Pepper, and let your dog have an earful.  There is an exception to this drinking and whining at the bar, though.  If you are already wildly successful in your field, you may drink and whine at the bar to your heart's content.  Everyone will just think you're eccentrically cool. 

So, that's basically it for my audition/performance portfolio.  As I got older, the arts side of my life kind of faded away and the "more serious" work side began.  Thus, I had job interviews.  Frankly, I have really only held three jobs in my life.  The first was as the cashier in the hospital gift shop.  I began that when I was 16 years old and worked at it through college.  I didn't have to interview for it, though, as I was hired on from the ranks of the candy-stripers.  I had been a candy-striper for a couple of years, but then left.  I told everybody I was leaving because I wanted to get a paying job.  This was a lie.  The real reason I left was because I volunteered as a candy striper in the ER, and this dude who worked there as an orderly turned out to be a perv and he kept coming onto me.  I didn't know how to handle it, so I quit.  When everybody wondered why, I made up the thing about wanting a paying job.  I was too humiliated and embarrassed to tell anybody about the perv.  (And I completely understand all you ladies who have been sexually assaulted and don't want to come forward.  There is just something about it that makes you want to hide.)  Anyway, as the lie that I wanted a paying job began to get around, the pink lady who was in charge of the hospital gift shop offered me a position there on the weekends.  Usually, volunteers staffed the gift shop.  On the weekend afternoons and evenings, though, they had a paid person, because there weren't enough volunteers who wanted to work those hours.  I didn't really want the job, but my mom made me take it, because the pay was actually quite good.  As it turned out, it was a great job and got me all the way through San Francisco State University.  And the perv never bothered me again.  I guess that was because there weren't any supply closets in the gift shop.  Well, there was one supply closet, but the door was always open and you could see right in.

My next job was as a loan clerk at a credit union.  I interviewed for this position just a matter of days after a horrible break-up with my fiance.  The opportunity came up kind of suddenly.  I didn't own a dress at the time (see above remark about my fashion sense), so I borrowed one from my sister, Gina.  I typed a little resume on a piece of paper about an hour before the interview was to take place.  I went into the interview without any idea of what a credit union was or what a loan clerk was.  I was not nervous, at all.  I didn't even really think about whether or not I wanted the job.  But, I had been raised to always do your best, in any and all situations, so I sat politely with my knees together and answered the questions without saying "uh" or "like" -- too much, anyhow.  I think the wonderful lady who managed the the loan department must have been kind of desperate, because she hired me on the spot.  It was a lovely job.  My co-workers were kind and funny and smart.  I met many interesting people.   I learned a lot about finance and money management.  And I learned that sometimes, an opportunity really is all about luck and timing.   Or serendipity.  Or Divine Providence.

My last job was as a high school science teacher.  I taught biology and general science.  It was a job I really wanted, and the district I wanted to teach in was fairly competitive.  They hired -- mostly -- Stanford graduates, and I was coming out of SF State.  I did know some people, though, because I had gone to high school in that district.  I admit that I sought out those people and gave them my resume directly, so I landed an interview.  This would probably all be illegal now.  But, connections still do help in most fields, as I understand.  And I did get the job.

And I sucked at it.  Absolutely sucked.  If you want to know all about how I sucked at that job, you can look back and find my blog post entitled "I Was Ben Sherman."  I think I wrote it this past spring.

All in all, though, I learned a lot of lessons.  I learned, first of all, to be honest with myself about my abilities when seeking a job.  I learned that -- for me, anyway -- it was best to project an open, interested attitude in an interview, without projecting desperation.  And without feeling desperation.  When it comes to getting a job, you do want to want it.  You want to be confident.  You want to have a certain spirit of competitiveness, but you want to be a good sport about it and realize that there are others who sincerely want the same job and who might beat you out.  And you need to be fair towards those individuals; you want to wish them well.  After all, if you are in the same field, you may end up working with some of them, at some point.  They may end up offering you opportunities.  Or one of them might marry your sister.  So, when approaching an audition or an interview situation, I would suggest being calm, being quietly confident, and having a little bit of a sense of humor about yourself.  Bring energy to the situation, but not too much adrenaline.  And if things go awry, smile and be gracious.  Thank the "powers-that-be" for the opportunity they have given you.  And then go give your dog an earful.

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