A taste of my own medicine

I’ll be the victim of my professional association’s Spotlight on Volunteers column this month (I edit their website. Because I don’t get enough of that at my day job. What was I thinking?!). I was interviewed for it last night, and one of the questions was “What’s your claim to fame?”

Other people have answered “I make a mean martini,” or “I have the ability to sing the lyrics to every U2 song ever recorded.” I tried to get away with a silly non-answer about not wanting fame, just money, and the interviewer wouldn’t let me. I realize I’m not exactly hilarious – my mom calls my sense of humour “subtle,” which is her way of saying “I don’t get it” – but this wasn’t for The Onion, either. And the woman pressed me for a serious answer about my distinguishing mark in the workplace.

But how pompous would I look, given that past interviewees have talked about their talent for making cheesecake? That’s even assuming I could come up with something to set me apart. Unless my latest employee newsletter cured cancer, I don’t think I have bragging rights over anyone else doing this kind of job.

I hate interviews. I’ve been interviewed as an organizational spokesperson, and, in one terrifying ordeal, was an undercaffeinated guest on a maniacally perky breakfast television show. But other than job interviews, I think this was the first time I’ve been interviewed as me, not as mouthpiece for an organization.

My high school English teacher wondered if he could pay someone to take my oral exams for me. He’d be astonished to learn that I eventually chose a career where I (very occasionally, but still …) had to be interviewed on live TV or radio. I’m not an extrovert. Myers-Briggs would point and laugh and tell you that’s an understatement. So until I regained my sanity and started specializing, media relations was the part of my job I hated, but had to struggle through to get to do the fun stuff.

And what’s the fun stuff? For me, it’s producing publications. Which means I end up subjecting other people to interviews. I don’t love being on the questioning end, either – it still means I have to talk and use my brain at the same time – but it sure beats being on the answering end.

It’s no 60 Minutes, either. Working in corporate communications means I’m looking for the positive in stories. Sometimes (scandalous PR trick alert), we make up quotes for senior administrators and run it by them to make sure it’s something they’re OK with “saying.” Other times, I chat with an expert for background and quotes. Some are used to the media/PR dance. Others treat me like I’m Diane Sawyer coming in for the kill, or think I’m dense because I’m asking them questions I should already know the answer to (but I want to quote them saying), or give me unusable expert-babble until I plead with them to treat me like an idiot (which only confirms to them that I am one).

But I always let people blow off the fluff questions if they want to. Maybe that’s my claim to fame.

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