Not to run with the pun from the book of the same name by Marcia Clark (the famed OJ Simpson prosecutor), rather I want to use it as a truism.
Having ‘too much’ ambition can kill your career.
I’m a journalist. I have been for many years. Anyone that majored in the same subject in college will feel my pain in this. It’s a labor of passion. It’s certainly not a gig you get into pie-eyed, expecting to become the next Oprah. No. It’s a line of work that chooses you. It’s something you feel compelled to do. You write, you talk, you share information with people. It’s as natural to you as a fish swimming in water. It’s just what we do. It’s who we are.
If this makes sense to you so far, then you’re probably like me…a mid-level, experienced journalist. You feel my pain of freelancing for ever and ever, piecing and pasting teeny checks together to scrape by. You’ve landed a consistent gig here and there in the span of your career, so you too, have been granted the title of ‘staff writer’ emblazoned next to your name.
Feels nice, doesn’t it? That’s why these journalists never leave unless they’re forced out of their positions either due to the monetary suckiness of the job that makes leaving a necessity or the publication had to drop the ax. Either way, staff gigs are rare. You might have a better shot of landing a dart in Big Foot’s ass than landing a staff gig at any reputable publication.
Well, that said – you’d think as a mid-level, experienced journalist that you’d be able to get a staff gig at a small, teeny, tiny (relative to the size of Los Angeles) daily paper, right? Perhaps. But aside from qualifications, assuming resumes are close where you’re basically splitting hairs, it’s possible that what it boils down to is ambition.
As I’ve discovered, that ‘A word’ seems to be a four lettered one for your interview. Yes, ambition can completely kill your interview that was seemingly flowing smoothly!
Not long ago at such a job interview, I was asked that damned cliche “where do you see yourself five years from now?” I honestly (and emphatically) answered:
“I would still be doing journalism. I’d like to get into the publisher side by then. I’d like to publish a free to press, perfect bind, ad revenue-driven, lifestyle and culture magazine. By then, I’d hope that I’d have some notoriety from local TV news.”
I answered with a great, big, toothy grin. Beaming with honesty. But almost as instantaneously as those words ran themselves out of my mouth, I felt my foot going in it. All I could think was “shut up, shut up.” Had I stopped mid sentence, I’d have either appeared insane, dumb or a liar. All three things not so hot for an editor to think of you during an interview. So it was too late. I went all in. Screw it.
Can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, right?
Anyway, my answer was met with a pasted grin and raised eyebrow. Not knowing how to respond to that precise language, he wrapped up the interview and ushered in the Q & A time. I was allowed to ask any questions I may have had about the position. A good interview usually allows for this portion, as I am told, so I left thinking that maybe I didn’t commit such a faux pas after all. WRONG.
After further disseminating my actions with one of my girlfriends, who recently picked up a full time job herself, although not in the same field, she told me that I basically hanged myself with my lofty ambitions. Really? Was she right? Could she be right?
Don’t employers want a new recruit that has big dreams, goals and the potential to drive their business to the next level? Apparently not.
Unless you’re going to work for Sir Richard Branson at one of his media outlets (which I have actually, personally done) innovation and big dreams are generally not welcomed at most outfits. Even in the field of journalism. Fall in line. Be part of the cog. Don’t rock the boat. Especially you – silly girl! Girls, even girl-reporters, just be there, do your job, throw the softball and produce some words on paper. Done.
So, best I can glean from this experience is that when at a job interview, be modest but boastful, be helpful and hopeful but not ambitious. Definitely not ambitious.