I am not a self-confident person. That much is clear from this blog. I’ve bumbled about in life, being polite to people who don’t always deserve my politeness & I’ve been quiet a few times when I should have spoken up.
This is not the KC who goes into job interviews. I’m surprisingly self-confident once I start writing a CV or an application form. On paper, I’m amazing, I can achieve anything & this temporary confidence boost carries me through the job interview. I am great at interviews.
I had an interview once, where the guy only asked whether I could lift heavy boxes, did I have a problem with ladders & was my hair naturally red. I got that job. I had another interview where the manager just wanted me to dish dirt on my current boss. I didn’t stoop to saying anything, but I still got that job.
But interviews where you get the job are rarely interesting. This is about the one (of many) that got away.
I was fresh out of university & had my head in the clouds. There were lots of ads in newspapers for graduate jobs. I was being told left, right & centre managers were looking for graduates just like me. I applied to as many as I could, looking for marketing or public relation roles in charities. I was quite idealistic & had dreams of changing the world in some way.
Despite there being hundreds of jobs, it turned out there were thousands upon thousands of graduates. Instead of the average job interview, I was being asked to present PowerPoints, write essays, obtain the Holy Grail & generally bend over backwards to even get past the first stage. Once I went through three stages of interviews to be a barista in a well known coffee chain. I progressed to stage four when the company decided to combine two branches, making the job redundant.
I bounced into every job interview with optimism; sometimes my bounce would fall flat. In this interview, I pancaked before even setting foot in the door. A letter had arrived inviting me to ‘an interview day’. I was nervous but lunch was provided, so at least there was that. I got my best tweed trousers on, a shirt & a brand new cardigan & I set out for the interview.
I didn’t know exactly where it was held so I booked a taxi. As I waited outside, a taxi swooshed to a stop. Now it was a summer day & it had been dry for at least a week. I don’t know how or where the water came from, but the taxi managed to splash me. There was mud right up my trousers. At least I hoped it was mud. The smell was rancid. I tried not to think about it.
I jumped in, trying to mop my trousers with a tissue. The taxi driver was the kind of person that other people would introduce as “a character”. He had obviously got into taxi driving for the banter.
‘Where are you from? You’re not from round here.’
‘I’m from London, but I’ve lived in the North Coast since I was 12…’ I began, but he cut me off.
‘Are you Australian or something?’ Often people think I’m from Australia or New Zealand or sometimes America. My accent is a little all over the place, but mostly people don’t notice.
‘I was born in London, but I’ve lived here for ten years or so.’
‘That’s not it.’ He looked at me. ‘Where are you from again?’
I said the town. He looked at me again, shaking his head.
‘Whatever it is, you sound hilarious.’ He burst out laughing & I mean that description. A laugh exploded from him like he’d been holding it in the whole time I was in the car. His whole body shook with the laughter. ‘Do you not hear it? You should listen to yourself. You sound bloody ridiculous.’
As we pulled up, I paid him & said thanks. I don’t know why I thanked him. He’d left me muddy & paranoid, like a weekend at Glastonbury only without any of the good memories.
As I walked in, a rather jolly security guard greeted me & ushered me into a room. At this point, should mention I am amazing at making friends with security guards & cleaners. They seem to feel a natural affinity with me (possibly they can sense I have worked in both roles). My husband joked once that in a room full of influential people, I’d be in the corner chatting with the cleaner.
In the main room, there were eleven women of a similar age & experience to me. It was like they had copied & pasted the same woman over & over. All had poker straight blonde hair, black glasses, white shirt & a black cardigan & they did not have muddy trousers. I had hoped there would be a table to hide my legs behind – there was not.
I was suddenly aware that this process was a bit of a contest, or a battle to the death. We were pitted against each other but at the same time, we had to appear nice & friendly to the other contestants.
Two women handed out name badges & explained how the day would pan out. A bit of an ice-breaker task, a teamwork project, lunch & finally a solo presentation. Of that list, I only liked the sound of lunch.
Who came up with the idea of ice-breakers? Who ever it was must have enjoyed watching people squirm. Does anyone enjoy them? I mean all the women had name badges, why did we have to do an ice-breaker?
Anyway, the lady in charge explained this one was “fun”.
We were each given three smarties of different colours & we had to tell the group something about ourselves based on the colour of the smarties. So red was for hobbies, green was for family, etc. I looked down at my three smarties – all brown. Brown was for “something no one knows about you”.
Three things that no-one knows about me.
I couldn’t think of anything that no-one knows about me. Plus I wondered if I needed to frame the answer for the job interview process. Should I have said ‘No-one knows I enjoy teamwork as well as working as an individual on projects’? I was panicking & aware that every word I spoke sounded ridiculous in my “hilarious” accent.
In the end, I went with I’m allergic to penicillin, I have two webbed toes on each foot & I have a mark on my bum from sitting on a bleached toilet seat because the only things that no-one knows about me are all medical based.
In retrospect, I should have made something up.
I may have lost that round.
After the ice-breaker, I could see my competition for the job was Lydia. While everyone else was quite shy & softly spoken, Lydia was ten decibels louder than anyone else, she laughed at everyone’s jokes & she sat very far forward in her seat, nodding like every word she heard was inspirational. Every single moment was filled with amateur dramatics with Lydia. There were gasps, hand gestures, eye-widening & flicks of her straighter-than-a-ruler blonde locks.
I couldn’t compete. I could only hope that Lydia was so over the top she would irritate everyone else.
We were split up into two groups & asked to debate differing sides of a topic. I got lumbered with Lydia. She immediately swiped the pen & flip-chart, nodding as everyone else called out the answers. She contributed nothing to the discussion but when voicing the points to the whole room, she bellowed over the top of everyone. We were only supposed to be out-talking the other team but Lydia took it upon herself to shout all of her own team down, including me.
Round two to Lydia.
Lunch time finally came.
It was a disappointment.
In spite of a few people failing to turn up to the interview, they didn’t provide enough sandwiches. I wandered off in search of the bathroom (I had chocolate biscuits in my handbag & I hid in the hall to eat them) & bumped into the security guard. I stood & chatted with him for the full lunch break. He told me about his wife who’d passed away the previous year, his kids & his grand-kids.
When I got back into the room, friendships among the other contestants had been formed. Lydia was fishing for a discount at another woman’s wedding dress shop. The two women hovered, making notes.
I had thought this was my own free time! It looked like I was being marked down for not wanting to talk to a room of dullards.
Round three to Lydia as well. I was on the ropes (about as ropy as this metaphor).
We were then all split up & given a topic to write a presentation on, I decided to give it my all. Lydia won’t be able to talk over the top of me plus she didn’t have anyone to give her the answers. I could see her peering over at other people’s notes.
I was called in & it started quite well. I had to introduce myself & the company I was applying for. I had this down. I researched the company so well that the founder of the company in 1885 would have been impressed by my knowledge.
Then I became aware of my voice again. Then my trousers. Then my hair. I could have ran straighteners through it this morning – why didn’t I? I wondered if those secret chocolate biscuits were a bad idea as well. Could I have chocolate round my mouth?
I had an out of body experience. Well, no. Not really. I just imagined I could see myself. Covered in mud & chocolate, mumbling in the world’s most ridiculous accent beneath my wild, untameable red hair. My self confidence took it’s last blow.
Ding-ding-ding! Lydia wins.
Ah well, at least I got half a sandwich for my troubles.