Interviews are funny things. Trying to remember the very best bits about yourself to regurgitate in front of strangers in a coherent manner. Not knowing what tricky questions you might get asked but remaining a picture of calm. Showing your easy-to-work-with friendly side as you feel eyes on you and pens writing down whatever’s coming out of your mouth.
For those of you lucky enough to have a job, you might not remember the horror of going into the unknown, of being asked what your strengths and weakness are, of trying to politely drink your glass of water with trembling hands. It's like food poisoning – it’s funny afterwards. But any fellow job-seekers will know that, while you’re going through the process of interviews, the fear is deep and the fear is real.
But I’ve never had any particularly scarring interviews. I was actually beginning to warm to them. Apart from the rejection phone call afterwards, they weren’t so bad. In fact, I’d even managed to laugh in some of them.
But then something happened. Earlier this week I had the weirdest, worst interview ever. I struggled with whether I should write about it in case a potential employer reads it. But I don’t want to censor myself. I don’t believe it was so much a reflection on me (I hope), rather just an unfortunate situation. So, get comfy, because it’s story time!
On Wednesday this week, I turned up at the door of an agency in central London. I hadn't spoken to the man who would be interviewing me, and I didn’t even know exactly what I was interviewing for. Nevertheless, I thought I didn’t have anything to lose by going.
I turned up at quarter to the hour, fifteen minutes early. The office manager opened the door and, looking confused, told me to go away and have a coffee, and come back a bit later on because I was too early. So off I went, and came back at a more ‘acceptable’ time.
“He’s had to run to a last-minute meeting, can you come back tomorrow?”
I try to trust my instincts as much as possible, but in this case I went against my better judgement and returned the following day.
I sat waiting (this time I’d been upgraded to a chair in the office), and the guy interviewing me turned up five minutes late and kept me waiting while he talked to his colleagues for another ten.
The whole office was one long room. I looked around at everyone working at their desks, wondering why not one person looked up at me and smiled. They all looked miserable, which should have been another indicator.
After snapping at the office manager, the guy eventually took me to his “office”, which was two chairs at the end of the room. He asked me about my degree, which quickly turned to the topic of his degree. He said, “I found English really easy in school. It’s probably because my grandfather was a playwright, so it’s in the genes.”
He told me he’s reading Shantaram, mainly because it reminds him of being in, I don’t know, some place I’ve never heard of.
“So you like reading articles? What do you read?” he asked.
“Oh, so you’re a lefty then. Most northerners are.”
I didn’t have a chance to reply before he started talking again.
“So you came out of uni, you’ve done a three-month internship and now you do freelance work.”
I was too amazed by him to realise he hadn’t even read through my CV, because I think he thought I’d never had a job before.
“You’ve been out of uni three years now. I’d be interested to know why people don’t want you.”
He worked out that I’ve been unemployed for ten months, and then proceeded to tell me there’s a six-month window of unemployment before it starts to look dodgy to employers. He knew this because he’d been a recruitment consultant, too, of course. As well as a ‘writer’, as you may have guessed.
“That’s the other thing,” he said. “Employers don’t trust freelancers. They can’t adapt to working office hours.”
He said the best he could do was offer me an internship. After he’d had a think about it, obviously.
“You have to love travel if you want to work here. If you don’t, it’ll become apparent really quickly”.
Darn it, that’s me out of the question then.