Sorry I missed a post yesterday, Gentle Readers – I had a job interview. Not the titular interview, it has to be stated. But it got me thinking about job interviews, and I thought you would all enjoy this old story, from when I was young, and green, and not the ball-busting curmudgeon I am now.
So, it was the summer of my Master’s degree, and I was getting ready to re-enter the big, bad world of work. Finishing off my thesis, and looking for a new, full-time job wasn’t easy, but I was sending in applications here and there. Finally, a friend drew my attention to a salesperson job with a local company.
That description oversimplifies what the job was, but essentially, I’d be travelling around, selling stuff. Well, one stuff. A product. Not a very good product, but there we go.
I wasn’t overly keen, but my friend swore blindly that this company was excellent and reputable, and had started many a local young person on an industrious and profitable career. I perused the job description, decided I could probably have a go at that job (maybe not the best criteria for applying, but I was up to about my fifteenth application…), I sent in a CV and cover letter, as per the advert, and waited. A few days later, I got a call from someone senior in the company, who, for the purposes of this anecdote, we will call Derek.
Derek: Well, I’ve looked at your CV.
D: You’re completely under-qualified for this job.
Me: OK. Thanks for letting me kn….
D: We’d like to interview you though, anyway, because we have another position, a junior associate position, for which we think you might be a good fit.
Me: Well, what does THAT job entail?
D: Office-based support of the sales team. Support of the job advertised. The paperwork side. In the office. No travelling.
Me: OK, well, that sounds interesting.
D: OK, we’ll see you at The Dodgy Hotel on Wednesday at 2.
Me: The Dodgy Hotel? (please note: names changed to protect the guilty…you know the drill)
D: Yep, see you there.
So the big day arrives. I’ve had an email confirming the time and place of my interview, and it really is in the local hotel which is rather dodgy and not exactly known for its ability to generate custom. Think The Bates Motel, but less hospitable.
I start to dress for my interview. There’s a slight problem in that I have no interview clothes, but I managed to pull together something that doesn’t overtly say ‘I’m a penniless student finishing my Master’s programme’. I arrive at the hotel to find it completely deserted. I’m not joking – there’s not a person in sight. The main door bangs against the wall in the breeze – it’s just hanging open – and the reception area is devoid of humanity (and possibly hope). I ding the bell that’s on the reception counter, before a handyman limps out of a dark side corridor. We exchange polite chit-chat, and establish that I am to wait in the empty (scary) reception until the interviewer appears.
The handyman limps back into the darkness.
After several more minutes, a door creaks open and a pudgy, slightly sweaty, pale man stomps into the reception. “Lucy?” he asks. I nod, unsure if I should admit to this person that I am who I am. He holds out a hand. “Derek.” We shake hands and he gestures me into the room where the interviewing is taking place.
Now, for the purposes of this scenario, I’m going to need to break off, and explain exactly what’s happening around me.
The Dodgy Hotel is…yes, dodgy. BUT it’s always been…functional. And we are in the middle of the summer, in an area of the world well-known for its tourist appeal. Everywhere else in the area will be booked solid, so this empty, slightly creepy hotel is worrying me. Hotels, even bad hotels, in my home town aren’t empty in the summer. They’re not even nearly empty. They’re full, or mostly full. So this entirely empty hotel is not a good sign.
Because this hotel is empty, the room Derek and I have just walked into (the BAR – this interview will be taking place in the bar, ladies and gentlemen) is mostly packed up. Bar tables and chairs have been stacked around the edge of the room, the bottles behind the bar are gathering dust, and the room has been rearranged to accommodate two sticky-looking sofas and a coffee table.Everything smells slightly like stale beer. It’s just such a wonderful environment. Did I mentioned that on the patio outside, all the patio tables and chairs have been stacked against the glass sliding doors? So this room is now vaguely like an underground bunker, with no natural light filtering in between the chair legs.
On the far sofa is crumpled a woman who is entirely beige. Her hair is beige, her face is beige, her suit is beige, her skin is beige – everything about her is nondescript and….beige. No other way to describe her. She’s beige. (And for the purposes of the anecdote, she will be called Brenda.) She’s reading a document, and barely glances up when I walk in.
Derek points me to the empty sofa, and before I can sit down, or offer a hand for Brenda to shake, Brenda raises her arm and shakes the document at me. “This is your CV,” she says, “Not very good, is it?”
I scrape my jaw up off the floor, and reply, “I don’t think I understand what you mean.”
“Well,” she says, “you’re rather over-educated. What’s the point of your Master’s degree?”
Are you FUCKING kidding me? I stare at her for a minute more, before I finally managed to marshal a polite reply. “I undertook my MA because I loved learning, I loved my subject. I had hoped to do more studying in the field, but there’s no funding at the moment, so, I have decided instead to enter the working world and attempt a real job instead.”
“Well that’s rude,” she snaps.
“We’re your second choice, then, are we? Bit off-putting for us, if this isn’t what you really want to be doing.”
Side note: when this anecdote is taking place? I’M TWENTY THREE. I’m not even a fully functioning adult, let alone have decided on a career path. FFS.
I reply calmly, “You’re not my ‘second choice’. My career plan has changed, so I am looking for a new path. The job you advertised seemed like it might be a good fit,”
Brenda snorts. “You’re not qualified for that job.”
Me: I know, your colleague here explained.
And this is where the interview gets really weird. (Yeah, I know. Up till now, it was just medium weird.)
Brenda turns to Derek and licks her lips, before reaching a hand towards him and stopping just short of touching him. “Derek mentioned that he had told you that.” She’s practically panting at him. The atmosphere in the room has thickened like an overdone gravy, but I am not quite sure what has changed. The two of them are sat on the sofa, angled towards each other, keeping a socially acceptable distance between them, but….well, you’ll see.
Derek returns the longing look, spending an abnormal amount of time gazing into her eyes, and then turns to me, his face devoid of all emotion. “Yes, we thought we’d invite you in, ask you a few questions, see if we could find a job that suits you.”
Me: Oh, OK. Well, you said on the phone there was an associate job?
D: Yes, there might be. If we like you, and you’re going to offer us something that we can use.
Me: I’m sorry, what? You invited me here to interview for an associate job.
D: Which we will create if you have a skill set we can use.
Me: Oh. So there isn’t actually a job? [Side note! This is illegal, btw. In employment? This, what they were doing? ILLEGAL. Very very bad to request CVs, then create jobs around the candidates you like the most. Oooooh, very illegal. I was too young to know this at the time.]
Derek: No.So, *Brenda brandishes my CV again* what’s your skill set?
Me: Well, I’ve just spent a year working on a master’s programme – I’ve developed excellent communication skills, I’m experienced at talking to people from all walks of life and tiers of society and I’m hard-working and motivated.
D: Yes, but what’s your skill set?
Me: Communication skills? Oral and written?
D: No, your skill set?
[Anyone who knows me in real life will know that the phrase ‘skill set’ sends me into a rabid rage, frothing at the mouth and snarling wordlessly. This is where this pathology began. With Derek and his fucking skill set question. Mostly because in this scenario, it doesn’t actually mean what he thinks it fucking means. I presume.]
Me: I’m obviously not understanding the question – what kind of answer are you looking for? [On reflection, I think they were looking for me to reveal some previously hidden assassin skills. “Well, I’ve killed a room full of men with just two paperclips and a square of paper before now, plus I’m a crack shot with a revolver and a fucking artist with a blade….”]
Derek: Your SKILL SET. What would you bring to this company?
Me: Communication skills? Being-hard working? Being motivated?
Derek: Never mind.
He turns to Brenda, and attempts to stroke her arm without actually touching her arm. It means he sort of…paws the air near her. She sways into him, before sitting up right. Staring at her longingly, he says, “Brenda has a question for you.”
Brenda: *returning his look, and stopping short of touching him herself* Yes…. *remembering where she is* Right! A question. Why did you apply for the job as a salesperson?
Me: Well, I saw it as an opportunity to utilise my ability to talk to people, and to develop my self-management skills, and I was keen to work for a company with a national reputation.
Brenda: But you’re not qualified for this job.
Me: It never hurts to try. You came recommended by a friend of mine.
Derek chips in: Why would Brenda *longing stare, finally, his fingers make contact with the beige sleeve of her jacket, he shudders a bit* risk her company on your poor sales experience?
Me: I don’t expect her to. But then, I’m here for the associate job…as we discussed on the phone.
Brenda: *staring at Derek, and leaning into the tentative touch of his hand* Suppose I gave you the salesperson job, along with the company car, and send you to make a sale. I hand you the brand new keys to your company car, and ask you to go to Sheffield. How would you get there?
By now, I’m quite pissed off. I applied for a job, was told I wasn’t qualified, was invited to interview for a job that didn’t exist, and now, she’s asking me how I’d get to fucking Sheffield. ALL WHILST NEARLY SHAGGING HER COLLEAGUE IN FRONT OF ME. All bets were off.
Me: Oh, I don’t know. I’d get the map out? Borrow a sat nav? Go up the M5? Read the road signs? I’d ask for directions if I got really lost.
Brenda: Right. *she finally stops leaning against Derek and looks back at my CV* I don’t have any more questions. Do you, Derek? *she shudders saying his name*
Derek, by this point, hasn’t even bothered to look at me for the last five minutes, as all his attention seems to be focused on stopping himself from touching Brenda. “I’m good,” he pants, leaning in towards Brenda.
“OK,” I say, standing up. “Thanks. I’ll see myself out.”
I did not look back, but I would bet money they started shagging on the sofa the moment I was out of the room. Or maybe even the moment before I left the room. Which is gross.
I went home and emailed them. “Dear Derek and Brenda, thank you for seeing me today. Having met you, I can see that I would not be a good fit for your company, and therefore I wish to withdraw my application from consideration. I was disconcerted by the whole experience. Good luck with your employee search. Best regards, Lucy.”
The reply from Derek came back. I reproduce it here, in part, for your edification. I’ve left out the part about what I should do to pursue a career with a commercial employer, since it was unsolicited and poor advice. Wanker that Derek was.
Thank you for letting us know that you have withdrawn your application; I am sorry you felt that the meeting on Monday was ‘disconcerting’.The purpose of our questions were to try to understand what you could potentially offer us, and not to catch you out. The questions were not particularly searching. I would also recommend you spell check your CV and proof read your covering letter before submitting, which makes an important first impression.
Firstly, they hadn’t actually asked any fucking questions (moron), just yelled at me about my skill set, and spent quite a lot of the interview “searching for meaning” in each other’s eyes. But the good news is, we now all know how to get to Sheffield!
Secondly, I spell-checked my CV and cover letter after receiving this email, and the only word that came up as misspelled? Derek’s name. Yep. That was the only misspelled word on ALL of my documents. Brilliant. Oh, no, no, no, Gentle Reader. I hadn’t misspelled his name! Microsoft Word just didn’t recognise his name as an actual word! His name was spelled exactly right. It’s just that all known algorithms in the word-processing worlds couldn’t make sense of it in a document. Much like my interaction with him in the real world.
I filed the emails under “Might Need These One Day For Humorous Purposes” and moved on.
No interview before or since has been so awful. I left the interview with Derek and Brenda feeling unclean. I’m not sure I’ve ever fully recovered.
What are your horror stories of interviews? Comment below and let me know!