Your word's as good as nothing

In early February, I went to an interview in the hopes of obtaining an associate editor position at a trade magazine. The editor-in-chief—we’ll call him Joe—met with me in an interview for an hour and a half, maybe even close to two hours. He gave me an assignment to turn around in a week to determine whether he’d want to hire me. He said that if any of the articles I turned in were published, he’d pay me $75 for each of them. Of course, it sounded like a good deal so I agreed to it. I asked him if I could ask him for help if I ran into any trouble. He said, “Sure.”

I also asked Joe how soon I’d find out if I was selected for the position. He hemmed and hawed, hesitating to give me
any estimated time. (This made me uneasy.) I asked him, “Two weeks? A month?” His blue eyes lit up and he enthusiastically said, “Yeah! A month!” I looked at him quizzically and asked him, “Wouldn’t you know whether you would want to hire me after I write those articles for you?” He hemmed and hawed some more then responded, “Let’s see what happens after you write.”

moneyAt the end of my interview, he walks me out of the office building. It was a nice day so I figured he’d stand outside and get some fresh air or just take a smoke break. (Writers and editors have one or two vices: coffee drinking and/or smoking.) I again give my thanks and farewell and proceed to walk down the sidewalk to my car. I feel his eyes watch me as I move toward the parking lot. As soon as I begin to fade from his sight, out of the corner of my eye, I notice he turns around and walks back inside. I stepped inside the car feeling a little nervous now. During the interview, he gave me no reason to feel uncomfortable but at that moment, I realized that it didn’t seem like a job I’d be thrilled to have. Even though I decided I wouldn’t take the position, I forged ahead with my assignment. I didn’t want to take the chance of working for another trade magazine and enduring an uncomfortable run-in with him at a trade conference for not completing an assignment, but I mainly liked the idea of scoring a cool $75!

I was still working at the my full-time job so in between the busyness of my tasks, I’d take slightly extended lunches and impromptu breaks to handle unexpected, incoming calls and make phone calls to conduct interviews. It was a
maddening week for me. (I could never survive as a moonlighter.) It had been a while since I interviewed anyone
(2005 to be exact) so I found myself astounded once again when I would leave voicemails and never get a call back. Since my last gig as a reporter was at my college paper, the postgrad reporting world posed new challenges. Instead of having assignments handed to me from editors, I was on my own, chasing down whatever I thought could be a story. Instead of dialing direct lines, I reached wary secretaries—the gatekeepers of the people I desperately needed to reach.

During that week, I asked if he had any advice on the best time to reach interviewees or how to get them to call me back. His only words to me: “Be pleasantly persistent.” I thought to myself, Great. That helps me a ton.

Despite the hurdles I encountered, I successfully managed to write and submit two articles. His final response to me? “thanks.” Verbatim. Not even a capital “T.” Just “thanks.” Okay, then, I think to myself. Time for me to wait and see what happens.

What happened? Two weeks after submitting my articles, I hadn’t heard from Joe and concluded that he wasn’t serious about offering me a job. I decided to let it go and move on to other opportunities.

Two weeks ago, I got the bright idea of visiting the magazine’s Web site and seeing if maybe, just maybe, they had used my articles without telling me. I looked in the section that I had been assigned to write for and—what do you know—one of my pieces was published with minimal corrections.

I felt a mix of emotions surge through my veins.  I found myself unsurprised that Joe ran my story without telling me, but I was excited to see it published with little editing. It apparently was so good that Joe ran it in the March issue but didn’t want to pay me the $75 for it. I immediately wrote a kind e-mail telling him that I’d accepted an offer with another company (which is partially true) asking what he thought about my submissions (leaving out the “you published without telling me part”). I received a response from him 2 minutes later: “Who hired you???”

I sat at the computer, staring at the e-mail in disbelief. I could only think of two ways to take that: “Who was crazy enough to hire you?” or “We’re prepared to propose a counter-offer.” (I seriously doubt the latter.)

After taking the weekend to contemplate what I would say to (what I see as) an unprofessional response, here’s what I wrote:

I’m currently working for an ad/marketing agency just west of Philadelphia.
I sent an e-mail to you to garner feedback on my two submissions and whether you had filled the position I applied for. I browsed through the magazine’s Web site today and noticed one of the pieces for the section [I wrote for] was published — might I add — with minimal corrections. Since you deemed my write-up good enough for publication, I anticipate receiving $75 for my published piece as we discussed during my interview.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.

One week later and I haven’t heard from him. Gee, I wonder why.

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4 Comments

  1. Gianna said,

    April 7, 2008 at 12:16 am

    well since you have filters to block bad language I can’t say what I’d like to about this guy…
    I hope you get paid and even if he is a scumbag congrats on being published!

  2. Prester John said,

    April 7, 2008 at 7:42 am

    Sounds like you got lucky. A potentially terrible, time consuming, expensive experience turned into just a run-of-the-mill miserable encounter with a miscreant.
    I’m several rungs below you on the employment ladder. Still, I have noticed in the past 15 years or so employers shifting from a sort of “warm body management” style to more of a “let’s see how much abuse we can heap on you and still keep you coming back for more” strategy.
    It’s discouraging.

  3. etta said,

    April 7, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    Marissa-
    You handled that ugly situation brilliantly. Do I sense some DBT or CBT training in your past?
    Congratulations on getting published! You may never see the $75.00, but you have a powerful new item for your portfolio/resume.
    What an unfortunate, little life this poor sap must lead to stoop to such slimy behavior. Be grateful that you will never again have to deal with him, and now he will be the one avoiding you at that next trade show!
    Congrats, again, on being published–
    etta

  4. Scott Becker said,

    April 10, 2008 at 12:45 am

    Your better off not hearing from him and even better off not getting the job. I kind of figured that you were going to say that he did publish your work because as you describe the situation that’s the type of person that he is. Forget the $75, chalk it up as a learning experience and be happy that you are moving on .
    Best of Luck!
    Scott Becker


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