How an MFA and The Hobbit Won Me an Awesome Job

As many of you know, I’ve been job searching on and off since about August when I made the reckless decision not to attend law school this year. The goal was to snag a suitable position by the time I started my next academic undertaking with a Master’s in Liberal Arts. (Classes started yesterday — more on that soon.)

Since then I’ve had some luck winning interviews but no offers. Until December 20th when I scored a full-time, salaried editing/proofreading position with the state government, which is fortuitously just a few short blocks away from my new campus. Sometimes the universe gives awesome Christmas presents.

I start tomorrow!

However, this post is not to brag, but to dispel some myths about MFAs specifically and the liberal arts in general. Namely the myths that they can’t get you employed as anything but a coffee shop barista or a tragic adjunct professor scraping away sans health insurance.

Yes, good academic gigs are still hard as hell to come by, so why limit your search? Universities have their own burdens and restrictions — moreover, they’re not the only place where you can write and earn a decent living. Ultimately, I think a good day job for a writer comes down to the right environment.

I had a feeling I had stumbled into a good place while I was waiting for my interview. One of the office staff showed me where I could wait. She noticed I’d brought a book with me: The Hobbit. That’s a good start, she said.

I learned what she meant ten minutes later as I walked to the conference room with my prospective boss. Not to say she was a huge Tolkien fan, but the book was the impetus for a conversation that had nothing to do with my limited amount of work experience. So I liked to read? Yes, very much. Was I going to see the movie? Yes, of course. Which led to more chatting about what else was coming out this season.

This may seem trivial, but I think it was actually an essential moment in the interview. You see, my interviewer got to see me as a person, not just a list of experiences and dates on the page.

Then we came to the matter of my education, which I (against the advice of some) always list at the top of my resumes:

“So, you like school?”

“I love school.”

“Me too.”

And while many see the MFA as a liability in non-academic job interviews, it instead served as a leaping off point for a discussion about creativity in the workplace and whether I was writing a novel. (I promised that, if hired, I would not put my coworkers in it.)

And that’s the story of my unexpected employment. Did I luck out in my choice of application? In my interviewer/potential boss? Absolutely. Does that make it impossible for anyone else? Not in the slightest. Persistence also plays a role. And choosing the right jobs to apply for. If something in the description of qualifications is a turn-off for you, that’s a warning sign. Conversely, if it makes you giddy, apply for that job. It just might be the right place for you.

Oh, and bring a good book.

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