Under Pressure: The Job Interview

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The mobile phone rang on silent mode several times. Messages were left. A friendly but harassed sounding feminine voice said it was so and so’s executive assistant calling and would I ring back as soon as possible to make an urgent appointment for a job interview?

It all sounded very exciting and promising. Stuck in a dreary holding pattern, my skills under-utilised in my present job, this was the updraft I needed to lift my flagging spirits. That elusive rush one infrequently experiences when a seemingly eternal sequence of mundane events is interrupted by a piece of great news, is I imagine, the closest one ever comes to the sensation of being able to fly without wings.

And so for a few days after the interview date was set, I moved easily through cafes, department stores and city streets, with a spring in my step that I was convinced strangers would notice and react favourably to.

On the cool morning of the interview day I woke up feeling anxious but optimistic. What did I have to fear anyhow? Although bald, I’m relatively youthful I reassured myself. And, even though I didn’t have extensive experience in the role I was applying for, I felt quietly confident I could still tell a story that with the right ratio of levity and charm might sway the collective will of the selection panel to decide that I was the right, if not the best, candidate for the job.

I arrived at the interview location in suit and tie, completed by a spritz of Farenheit by Dior. It was mid afternoon, the sky clear blue, the temperature typically mild for a Sydney July. I climbed the short flight of stairs of a brutalist period building and waited as instructed in an antechamber, essentially the cramped corner of a small and sparsely furnished room that was less than welcoming.

Important personages swept hurriedly past at regular intervals, clutching clipboards tightly to their chests and casting knowing smiles in the direction I was seated. Clearly they were members of the interview panel.

Without forewarning, a young and efficient looking lady materialised, waving a sheaf of papers in front of me, advising that I was required to submit to a written test. My mood soured almost immediately. This was not the interview I had signed up to, I silently protested. But under the circumstances, I felt I had little other choice but to cooperate with her demands.

When I viewed the contents of the test my disappointment gave way to a sense of despair. It quickly became apparent that I had no idea of how to respond to questions that only a person with substantial  experience  in the role was capable of confidently tackling.

Fifteen excruciating minutes later, I was escorted to the interview room where two men and two women seated comfortably around a corporate table patiently awaited my entrance. Feeling the worst was now behind me I still felt my body bracing for the volley of verbal questions that was about to be fired from across the room.

As the questions unfolded, I noticed with some alarm that the written test I had bombed out in, had followed me into the interview room and was now facing down, menacingly, on the table in front of me, a ticking time-bomb. At any point, I fretted, one of the interviewers was going to flip my dismal effort over and call my bluff. I was grateful that that didn’t happen though, at least in my presence!

‘Why do you want this job? How do you like to be managed? How don’t you like to be managed? How do you organise your time? What techniques do you use to deal with multiple deadlines? How do you ensure the accuracy of your work?’ And so on.

I answered these and other inquisitorial questions to the best of my ability and despite the relatively cheerful nature of the interview, no discernible clues were provided by the men and women sitting opposite me that my responses were auguring well for my chance of success.

Interviews are bizarre affairs. It seems that for a brief moment the hapless interviewee is compelled to assume the role of the acrobat walking a fine line on top of a high-wire tightrope while panelists do their best to upset his or her balance.

What’s being assessed in an interview or a written test then? One’s ability to do the job being applied for? Or one’s ability to perform under undue pressure? I mean, how helpful is a stressful environment in a competitive application process when the job being applied for does not stipulate one of the essential criteria as being able to say all the right things when put on the spot?

Just to put matters into perspective, I was applying for a mid-level administrative position in the higher education sector, not for a fighter pilot’s ticket in a RAAF squadron.

A few weeks later a slightly awkwardly worded message arrived in my inbox stating that ‘unfortunately you have been successful.’ Of course that was a typographical error – one you wouldn’t expect from a hiring manager who holds staff to the highest standards of attention to detail – but the irony of it all made me smile, and immediately restored me to good spirits, even though I didn’t get the job.

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