A little more than (yikes) 14 years ago I stepped into a job interview that was a little awkward, to say the least. I had applied for a position as photo editor of a couple of newspapers and didn’t get the job. Instead, the company called me back to be reinterviewed for a related position — by the person they hired over me as the editor.
Sheesh. “Oh well,” I thought. I preferred to work in that community over others nearby and photojournalism gigs were few and far between. As I sat down to the interview, I eyed up the guy and tried to surmise what I could. I was annoyed. He seemed super nice and like the kind of person I’d probably enjoy hanging out with outside of work hours. I wanted to be mad at him (he landed my position) but I couldn’t. Then he started speaking as he flipped through my portfolio:
“I see you went to art school for photography. How do you think that affects the way you shoot as a news photographer?” he asked.
For some reason, the question really caught me off guard and things went into slow motion as I decided about how to respond. Thoughts raced through my head: “OK, great. Here’s some guy that went to a well-respected journalism school and thinks my educational background isn’t relevant to the job,” I said to myself. I thought about downplaying it, instead focusing on my real-world work experience as a photojournalist. But then, I had a crazy thought: Why not tell him the truth?
I told him about composition, lighting and conveying a message, or whatever else I could think of on the fly. Then I waited for what seemed like an eternity for him to respond back.
“OK, cool! I went to art school, too,” he said.
I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy I told him the truth and relied on where I was the most comfortable instead of making something up I thought he wanted to hear. In the end, I was hired and he and I became good friends. We’ve both moved on from the news photography arena and have moved hundreds of miles apart but still keep in touch.
So why does this matter? It’s OK to aspire to gain more skills and knowledge in new areas, but I think honesty is always the best policy rather than the fake-it-until-you-make-it mentality. After all, would you want to be hired because of an attribute you played up in an interview, when in reality you’re really not confident in those abilities? And besides, your unique background is what makes you — you! It may actually be an asset rather than a liability.
As a photographer, I’m always trying to build my portfolio and learn new techniques. I’ve been at it since ninth grade and I’m still looking for ways to improve, but I always try to stay true to who I am, a documentary photographer. I am the most confident in my work when events are unfolding around me and it’s up to me to tell the story with what I’m given.
Today, I think this makes my vision a little unique. You see, I’ve been photographing for businesses now for almost 10 years. I work with my clients to develop the ideas they need to convey with their brand image and partner with them to bring those pictures to reality. But, in the process I’m still a photojournalist. My eyes are always open to what else unplanned or natural may be going on that my clients can still utilize down the road. If I kept a narrow focus on what simply was on my shot list only I may miss many opportunities to make my clients even more happy. That’s why it’s OK to be yourself.