How not to get hired by the New York Times

March 19, 2004
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If you’ve been a desker more than 10 years you’re apt to have your “what happened when I applied at the New York Times” story.

For the longest time the Times’ recruiting director was Merrill Perlman, whom I joined for dinner Wednesday night. Merrill’s positive, toughminded and funny (and a scuba diver, I learned the other night) and she’d give the impression you really had a shot at the big time.

The Times’ hiring process, last I heard, goes like this: they send you a take-home editing test, and if you score well on it, they’ll call you in for a weeklong tryout. I know of one guy who did the tryout just to get a free week in New York City.

Last night a few of us were sharing out “what happened with my take-home test” stories, after we shared our Merrill stories, and I heard a tale that’s one for the annals. Copy Editor X said he had received his stories to edit, and noted that one of them involved a town he was planning to travel through. C.E.X.’s story, as I recall it: “The story was in terrible shape, so I did more reporting.” He corrected a number of errors and other reporterly tasks, and turned in his test. “I was told that sort of thing just isn’t done at the Times.”

Consensus was C.E.X. shoulda known better, but damn, we admired his moxie.

My Times story: It was six or seven years ago (previous job). I sent Merrill an e-mail pointing to a Web site I was doing at the time, and she wrote back saying “hmm, we’re interested.” So she sent me that test, which I agonized over for a couple days and realized: As much as I imagined myself Times material, I didn’t want to be a Timesman badly enough to finish that damn test. So I bowed out, sent Merrill a nice e-mail explaining why all the sudden it didn’t seem all that essential that I come to the Times.

And after I heard a couple people’s “how the Times rejected me” stories, I felt kinda proud that I had done it to the Times before they had the chance to do it to me.
(Not that I entertain any fantasy that I’d have survived the torture test and gotten a job offer, mind you.)

Wow, iBook battery almost spent; will report back later.

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