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October 23, 2012 4:49 PM   Subscribe

Lately, I've been fantasizing about pulling a George Costanza---realizing that if every instinct I've had have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right. In my case, I want to just abandon my "ethics," stop thinking I'm special, and going out there, and trying to make some serious money. Has anyone just pulled a George Costanza and taken the 'opposite' approach to life? For example, have you walked into a job interview and just said exactly what's on their mind, like George does when he meets Steinbrenner, or confessed that you're unemployed, balding and living with your parents when an attractive person hits on you? If people don't have personal experience of doing these things, I'd love to read accounts of others doing them. Thanks!
posted by shushufindi to Human Relations (23 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I got a job in part, because I was very honest. The last real question I was asked was along the lines of 'where do you see yourself in 5 years'?

My answer - If I have a professional meat slicer, and a slurpee machine in my place, then I know I've done something right. The owner laughed and agreed that would be pretty awesome and I was hired the next day.

I've taken the position that I will be pretty damn honest when given silly questions like this in interviews, and it seems to be working for me. Really, in my position in life, if I have a stable place to live, and 5 years from now I'm stable enough to have $8,000 worth of luxury items in my apartment or house, then I must have been doing something right.

As for dealing with potential dates, that is slightly trickier, but the more honest you are at the outset saves everyone a lot of time. I have dated girls when living at my parents house well beyond the acceptable time, but it worked out for a while. I don't think the parents house was entirely the demise of the relationship, but honestly, it didn't help much. These days it is pretty common.

I know exactly what you are feeling, but one just has to gauge the person you're interacting with and judge when to be totally upfront, in my opinion.
posted by efalk at 5:04 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not directly the George Costanza approach, but you may be interested in the book Yes Man (don't see the movie), where he decides to say yes to everything that people ask of him (up to them he mostly said no), and his life takes a different path. Aside from being interesting and thought provoking, it's also funny as hell - Danny Wallace is a great comic writer.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:20 PM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have the complete Seinfeld Collection and Larry David comments in it that someone did that and it worked out for him. No specifics though.
posted by discopolo at 5:42 PM on October 23, 2012

I've definitely been flat-out honest in a few interviews, but that's only because I knew what I was getting into and really didn't have anything to lose. I had a job and wanted another one, but if I didn't get this one, I knew I'd be good. (And I pretty much HAD to do that in my last interview, because I was interviewing for an internal position with nearly the same committee for the second time in a year. It actually worked. They said I was "bold." Hotcha!)
posted by Madamina at 6:11 PM on October 23, 2012

Yup! After reading a lot on Ask A Manager, I went to an interview I had decided I didn't care about and was just totally honest....professional (I curbed the sailor talk), but didn't worry or edit much. I got the job, ended up taking it, and my managers are awesome.
posted by jrobin276 at 6:21 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, I have.

I am pretty conservative about some things and had an extremely strict sense of sexual ethics when I was younger. While going though a divorce, one choice I consciously made was that the first guy I slept with would be a throw away relationship that meant nothing to me. I did not want to repeat the pattern of "this MUST be True Love" based on the fact that it was the first guy other than my husband that I had slept with in forever. I didn't want to commit to a serious relationship again too soon. I wanted time to get through some things. Previously, every single guy was envisioned as "this must be true love" and yadda.

I did a lot of uncharacteristic things during my divorce. I have since been celibate long term and have returned to my default preference that, at some point, I would like to make the happily monogamous thing work. My outside-my-norm experiences have left me feeling better equipped to make a go of that. I also am aware that if I cannot work that out, I have other viable options that, while not my first preference, would be more palatable than my long unhappy marriage was. I think, ironically, knowing that I have options makes it more likely I can get what I want because I won't be operating from a position of psychological and emotional weakness.
posted by Michele in California at 6:23 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Long ago I tried an honest personal ad as a sort of dare. I said things like I was, "too old, too tall, not upwardly mobile, drank, smoked, ...". I heard from 5 women, took 2 out and dated one of those for awhile. Oh, and her reply was great!
I had started the ad with, "Bad Catch wants true love anyway", so she took up the fishing meme saying, "One man's mermaid is another man's carp". I would say that honesty worked that time.
posted by Hobgoblin at 6:28 PM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have done this in some cases- not the "opposite" thing, but the honesty thing. It works, at least in the moment.

I think the reason it works is that we have layers and layers of white lies, truth massaging and frankly, delusions mixed into our speech that uncorking it feels freeing. And the people we are finally honest with see our expressions change and it feels like a closer connection.
posted by gjc at 6:59 PM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Sometimes where the job application asks if you've ever been fired, I'm honest and put "yes." Sometimes I'm dishonest and put "no." Either way, I never get the job.
posted by scratch at 7:07 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

"The Law of Opposites" is real. Do it.
posted by Area Control at 7:14 PM on October 23, 2012

I applied for a job and included the phrase, "yes, I'm older than most of your applicants, but I'll do the work twice as well and care half as much when the day is done" in my cover letter. Yeah, never heard back.
posted by plinth at 8:08 PM on October 23, 2012

Honesty is healthy. Doesn't always help, but sometimes does, and it feels good anyways.
posted by ead at 8:23 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I once told a professor that I was looking for something to do in the summer but, because I had just switched from biochemistry to CS, I had no particular interests, prior experience, or specialized knowledge. A few weeks later this professor came back to me with an opportunity at Argonne National Labs working on the interpreter for a domain-specific language for analysis of X-ray spectroscopy information. I worked for the guy who wrote some software I had previously used (random Python visualization library); I got my first "real-world" experience with version control, bug tracking, automated testing, and interpreters; and I spent an hour every day riding a bike around the Argonne nature preserves. I'd say it worked out pretty well.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:19 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I applied for a walk-in job at a call centre where they asked on the application form what your favourite movie was. I didn't fill it in as i thought it was a stupid question. While waiting in the foyer for my interview i heard the manager abusing an employee. Just then, an assistant returned the form for me and said i must complete the favourite movie.

Ah what the hell, i thought. Natural Born Killers (the humour, the social commentary) is my fave... No job for the fish!

Also, i knew a guy in highschool who was all save the whales, communes, treehugger etc. caught up with him at a reunion. He now owns a coal company and races sportscars in between flying os to hobnob. Doesn't give a fuck about the environment, just how many millions he has in the bank.
posted by the fish at 9:49 PM on October 23, 2012

Possibly related.
posted by gentian at 11:12 PM on October 23, 2012

A friend of mine had a couple of interviews lined up after college. Got a job at one company, but decided to go to his next interview anyway, as it was a well-known computer game developer and he'd like to check the place out. He decided to be totally honest during the interview, as he had nothing to lose. So he answered all the questions truthfully, and the interviewer's commentary at the end was something along the lines of "Wow. you're the most honest interviewee we've had here! We don't think you're right for the position you've applied for, but we have a good feeling you're excactly the person for this other position we need filled."

He didn't accept the offer, but I think that if he did, it would have been a better match than the position he applied for.
posted by Harald74 at 12:30 AM on October 24, 2012

Without exception, I've been direct and honest in every interview I've ever had, and I've gotten offers in about 80% of the interviews I've had. When people have asked me why I want to leave my current job, I tell them honestly. When people ask me what I think about X, I tell them honestly. I think there's real value in being able to be constructively critical and I'd rather a prospective employer hired me because they think I would be straight up and honest with them than because I can dance around difficult topics.

Example: 'What's prompting you to look for new work?'
Conventional Wisdom answer: 'I want to explore new opportunities and grow as a person.'
Conventional Wisdom answer if pressed:'It wasn't a good fit for my ambitions and working style' or similar.

My answer to the same question when I left a consulting firm was to talk about the two or three things that I genuinely enjoyed, then discuss at length the issues with project workflow, presenteeist culture and the mix of clients and how it had affected my working experience. Then I segued from there into talking about why I thought this new company might be approaching things in a way that meant I would enjoy the work more and do a better job.

Basically, the I never do the whole 'gloss over and never talk about anything in a negative way' approach to things. All that tells an employer is that you're someone who won't be honest with them. Which is fine, I guess, if that's what they want or what they've been led to expect from candidates.

This is in the UK, however, where I think the honest approach is less rare. No idea how it might go down in the US.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:28 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The incomparable Zina Saunders did this about her artist statement, and I have never really looked at one the same way since.
posted by hmo at 6:57 AM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Not to gag you or anything but there's saying exactly what's on your mind, versus being your authentic self.

I think a lot of younger people, especially in dating and job hunting situations, are putting on some kind of show, auditioning if you will, for the job or for the date. As the hiring manager or the prospective date, it feels wrong. It can come off smarmy, or insincere and thus no job, no date.

Now, you don't have to be an ass about it, but being yourself, being comfortable with your situation in life and who you are makes other people really comfortable with you as well.

So in a job interview, you wouldn't necessarily say "I hate working and if I win the lottery I'll be outta here so fast your head will spin", but you could say, "I think everyone wants to be fulfilled in their work, and I'm no exception, but I have no illusions that everyday is going to be a bed of roses. Sometimes you have to knuckle down and muck out the stalls."

Or whatever your philosophy is.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:22 AM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

To go with Ruthless Bunny's comment on authenticity - you're talking about taking the "opposite" approach (doing the opposite of conventional wisdom, or the opposite of the thing you would normally do) and you're talking about saying the first thing that comes into your head (in the context that conventional wisdom tells us to edit ourselves or present ourselves a certain way, and you're doing the opposite of that.)
The idea of not editing yourself so heavily is good; blunt honesty is sometimes more likely to get you what you really want, especially in situations where false politeness gets you what you're "supposed to want" and that's not actually the ideal solution for you. But it's about being authentic. You talk about living "like on Seinfeld" but those are some of the least-authentic jerks around. That's looking at one extreme (societal norms of rigorous politeness) and going to the other (being as dramatically blunt as you can). Sure, being honest can be a really really good thing, but don't turn "honesty" into such a conceit that you're acting fake.
posted by aimedwander at 8:48 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine wrote a personal ad where he described himself as unemployed, short, fat, married, and Mexican (in Texas, no less), and he had an alarming number of responses from cute girls. More than I got, as a single mid-twenties woman who was cute, single, and gainfully employed in the tech field.
posted by thelastcamel at 11:14 AM on October 24, 2012

I've seriously considered following a policy in my investments of doing the opposite of what I believe will work... But I've never actually done the math to see how much it would have earned me.

Recently joked to a friend that I was opening up an ETF, the Bearish on Broom Contrarian Fund.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:37 AM on October 24, 2012

Right after I finished library school, I had an interview for a librarian job that was totally out of my league (I was an internal candidate, which was how I got an interview, and was just treating the interview as practice). At the end of it, one of my interviewers said, "Be honest with me -- do you think you learned anything in library school?" I told her that I hadn't, it was a waste of time/money, etc. Two days later HR called to offer me the job and I actually said, "Are you serious??" I've since been very straightforward in job interviews and usually get the job once I get an interview.

I can't wait til I get that "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" question so I can quote Mitch Hedberg.
posted by jabes at 3:54 PM on October 24, 2012

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