I made a Twitter thread a while ago about applying for jobs and I also got an ask about some of the specifics about how I wound up here, so in spite of the fact that this video makes me C R I N G E, I’m gonna share it and we’re gonna do some STORY TIME. Mostly this is me sharing the specifics of my own, personal story but maybe there’s some broadly useful stuff in here, idk.
Also, a fair warning that my ~*story time*~ got away from me, so I’m putting it under a cut. The tl;dr version that’s more broadly useful is:
- job applications are learning opportunities and you should make sure you’re learning things as you go about it
- your application should be a tailored narrative of your career trajectory
- don’t sell yourself short or forget that you hold cards in the process as well
- the goal is a good fit for everybody, and that includes you; not every job is going to be that good fit for you
but then, I’m not a hiring manager so, really, wtf do I know
(seriously, take everything I say for the anecdotal nonsense that it is)
I found the listing for my job here on Tumblr. At the time I was freelancing and mostly pretty happy with it, but since I wrote my MA thesis on Nerdfighteria and had always kind of wanted to get into video, this looked like a really cool opportunity to work on great stuff & learn a lot.
The application asked for a reel, which I did not have, since I was mostly doing Virtual Assistant work at that time.
A huge part of why I applied was because I thought the application process itself would be a great learning opportunity.
I really didn’t expect to get the job. I can’t stress this part enough. Like, really didn’t even think I’d get an interview.
The whole thing, to me, was just a good exercise. It had been a while since I had applied for anything (I was freelancing on referrals from the get-go) and mostly I was eager to see what, exactly, I could put together in lieu of a reel.
I spent a week working my way through some Lynda lessons on After Effects (this wasn’t my first time using it, but I had only used it for suuuuper basic stuff). Much of what is happening in this video is stuff I figured out how to do while I was making it. That was, again, the point.
I bought a shit ton of green fabric. I rounded up all the lamps I could find. I had a vague knowledge of the fact that shadows = bad for keying, but really knew fuck all about lights. (tbh, lighting is still kind of a mysterious magic trick to me.) I spent probably an hour moving the lamps around, standing in front of them, recording it, and then looking at it until I could find what looked the least shadow-y.
I also watched a SciShow video on the slowest speed setting so that I could try to reverse engineer the basics of what was happening. I was literally just looking at it to see, “ok, but can I do that?” (Answer: not really, but A for effort.)
I wrote a very silly script that was a very carefully selected understanding of how I had been spending my time. This part is super important and broadly applicable whenever you are applying for a job: a huge part of applying for a job is creating a narrative.
(Important note: this does not mean lying.)
Obviously your life has (probably) not actually been a series of carefully chosen moments leading you to this ONE. JOB. But it’s important to find ways to talk about the things you’ve done that highlight how/why they are relevant. In my experience, humans have a pretty natural tendency to do this narrative reframing of their past as having led them clearly to their future. Use that. What is the version of your trajectory that most sounds like you’ve been gearing up for this job all along, acquiring skills both obvious and unexpected that would be useful here.
That’s the guiding principle of everything I’m saying in this video.
It’s also worth noting, though, that I laid my cards on the table. That is, I wasn’t trying to lie about anything and I was up front about where I was at. It wouldn’t have served anybody to try to be misleading about that fact.
So that was the application process, for me. It’s a tricky balance of being honest but also a carefully selected kind of honest. And keeping in mind that this is as much about deciding whether a company is actually good fit for you as whether you’re a good fit for them. I remember during my college admissions process, one school that I thought I really wanted to go to had a weird religious essay on the form that caught me off guard and made me reevaluate whether that was a good fit. Likewise, I honestly wasn’t sure if I wanted to do the 9-5 thing. Freelancing had lots of great perks that offset some of the overwhelming stress.
Something else that I did, that I recommend with a very cautious asterisk, was googling the people interviewing me. Again, partially this was, “OK, I know these shows they make, and I know vlogbrothers videos, but who are all of the other people who I would spend my days with.”
I had no idea who Nick was before I started, because I never paid much attention to the credits. But he was the one who called me to arrange the interview, so I googled him and found a great interview he did about why Crash Course matters, and there were a few specific things he said that stood out to me as, “yes, this is also why I think this matters and why I want this job.”
The asterisk here is: don’t be creepy. It’s a hard line to walk, but, ya know, don’t talk about your interviewer’s swarm check-ins or whatever.
In my case, I knew that in addition to concentrating on that narrative of how and why I should end up here, I had these other points to hit on in the interview. Again, don’t lie. This isn’t about saying shit solely because you think someone wants to hear it; this was about leveraging a piece of common ground I knew we had.
Lastly, I’d add that it’s good to be careful about how you walk the line between being excited about a company’s work and being a little overzealous. It is, at the end of the day, still a job, and you don’t want to come across as so enthusiastic that maybe you’re missing that point. That’s a really nuanced thing for which I have no easy answers.
A lot of this stuff is just luck. I gave a lot of advice where I could, but, at the same time, there’s also this weird combination of personalities that make a thing work or not. There’s a thing in hiring called the “airport test” which is: “could I be stuck in an airport with this person?” and that is a whole other weird, wholly qualitative element of hiring that ends up making a huge difference.
There’s the official bits and pieces that make up a job application, but then there’s the trickier interpersonal stuff about how that job fits into a team. Something not explicitly stated in my application, but which I’ve since learned mattered is that what I lacked in technical know-how, I made up for in cultural knowledge about YouTube. My manager is a former film school teacher who learned the YouTube stuff on the job; he knew he could teach me anything technical I didn’t know much more easily than he could teach someone the culture in which we create.
IDK. I could legitimately talk about this forever.