Catching up on some long-neglected reading, I just finished an interview with actor Frank Langella in the September issue of Esquire. At one point, writer Scott Raab asks Langella about his role as the vampire in the 1979 movie “Dracula,” saying, “Did you drag that around like a stone?” Langella answers that he didn’t in his head, but he acknowledges that the role probably cost him some other opportunities. That by itself is something we are used to thinking about actors, that one corny role or a movie that flops will hurt the actor’s career. Thinking of Langella’s career now — think particularly of “Frost/Nixon,” “The Box,” last year’s “Robot & Frank” — it seems crazy to think he lost roles in the early ’80s just because he played a vampire in 1979. You wonder how many of those producers or casting directors who passed him over would now, in hindsight, wish they had rethought it.
But then I thought of my own recent experience looking for a job. In the two months after I was laid off, I must have applied for nearly 40 jobs; none seemed like a stretch. I got just four phone interviews, three of which led to in-person interviews. But those four had two significant questions in common. The gist of the first was whether I was concerned that it had been nearly 12 years since I directly supervised reporters. My inner reaction roughly was, “What? Seriously?” The gist of the second was that my corporate job must have paid me significantly better than the job I was interviewing for, so how low could I go? My inner reaction wasn’t much different than it was to the first, because although it was a corporate job, it was still in news — the pay wasn’t as good as they assumed.
These publishers and editors were doing the same thing as those Hollywood producers — looking at the last thing I had done and extrapolating from that the entirety of what I then was capable of and expected. Given the common gravity with which the questions were asked all four times, I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that a number of people who never even called me had the same questions, presumed the answers and wrote me off. In fact, during my almost 12 years in a corporate news division, I had seen some situations where publishers simply wrote off potential hires without so much as an interview because they assumed, based on where the editors had last worked, that the editors wanted more money than the publishers were willing to pay.
Now that I am back supervising reporters again, I can confidently say what I believed before: If you were ever any good at supervising reporters, then it’s like riding a bike. You just don’t forget how to do it. As for the pay, obviously I was always fully aware, as a longtime reporter and editor, that the industry’s standard pay is awful.
Now, as I am trying to make a new hire I am trying to be sure I am not repeating the mistakes of those who interviewed me.
How about you? Next time you are reviewing applications, assess what you are assessing. When you place an application in your “No” pile, why did you put it there?