Friday, June 27, 2008

My Interview Hell

You wouldn't expect any job interview to be fun exactly, but the one I had a couple of weeks ago takes the prize for the most unpleasant and embarrassingly awkward interview that I've ever experienced. It was for an FE college lecturing job in North London. I have to admit that I wasn't as well prepared for some of the interview questions as I could have been, and I could have done a bit more research on current issues in FE and so on. I almost certainly wasn't the best candidate for the job - I'm not peeved about being turned down. What I am a bit narked about, though, is how incredibly unfriendly and rude the interview panel were.

The lady from personnel was perfectly pleasant and polite when she came to pick me up from the reception area. The usual questions about my journey were asked as she showed me towards the interview room. So far so good. The arrangement was that I made a 10 minute presentation on a subject of my choice from the course syllabus and that this would be followed by a 50 minute interview. I had spent several days preparing the presentation complete with Powerpoint slides and a hand out. I felt fairly confident, not too nervous. It all went wrong very quickly. I knew within 60 seconds of walking into the interview room that I didn't stand a hope of getting the job and that the whole thing was a collossal waste of my time and of a day's forfeited pay. I knew this because it was immediately obvious that the interview panel would clearly much rather be somewhere else, were not in the slightest bit interested in me, and weren't too bothered about concealing any of this - one of the panel spent the whole interview almost horizontal in his chair, occasionally summoning up the energy to roll his eyes at his fellow panelists and to make faint, half-hearted noises suggesting a state of exasperated boredom. He was probably what you'd euphemistically call 'a character' - or, as I prefer, 'a total knob-end'. The other two panelists (apart from the personnel officer who was friendly throughout) struggled to project any sense that they had warm blood in their veins and maintained an attitude of icy uninterest from start to finish. I don't know, maybe they'd only just come out of a coma or something.

Usually you'd expect your interviewers to rise from their seats and shake your hand when you enter the room - but with this lot it was just still, stony silence. Perhaps there was, at most, a slight nod of the head. They resembled a line of semi-hibernating reptiles eyeing some mildly appetising insect just out of reach - they knew somewhere in the back of their minds that they should show some interest, but couldn't quite find the energy to do anything about it. Just watch. Quite off-putting.

Anyway, after a few seconds of awkward hovering while I waited for handshakes or some other show of basic politeness, I went over to the laptop and tried to start up my presentation. As is always to be expected when using computer technology (especially someone else's technology) on a formal occasion, I couldn't get the damn thing to work for a few minutes. I couldn't find the Powerpoint application and an icon for the USB disk didn't show up on the desktop. Still, I thought I dealt with it quite well - in a situation like that you can either get flustered or you can make light of it, and thankfully I managed to make a joke out of it. No response. Not even a smile. Nevermind. Just start the presentation. Five minutes into the ten minute presentation one of the interviewers suggested I might like to finish now. I hadn't even come to the interesting part. OK, so some time was lost fiddling around with the laptop, but surely they'd realise that wasn't my fault? Anger started to well up somewhere in my chest, but, again, I managed to laugh it off. I still wasn't flustered, just a bit annoyed deep down. I'd boil about this later - but not now.

I sat down in front of the panel of stony, unimpressed faces. An iceberg would have radiated more warmth. No one asked me about my presentation. There was just an embarrassed silence for a few seconds while... while what? What was I supposed to do? Inscrutable reptile looks. Then the first question. I was asked how I would promote the college's Equal Opportunites policy in the classroom. Of course, I'm wholly in favour of Equal Opps policies and it's good that they clearly take it seriously - but what am I supposed to say about this? I managed to mumble something vague - but only after considering, for a second or two, a facetious response. 'How would I promote the college's Equal Opportunities policy in my teaching? Well I suppose I would promote it by not being a racist, sexist or homophobic bastard in the classroom.' What else can you say? The other questions were all fairly standard - although there wasn't one about my subject knowledge. They were all procedural questions. None of my answers seemed to impress. The lead interviewer recorded my answers in a manner that suggested that she was writing notes about something slightly distasteful and tiresome - like a blocked toilet or a nosebleed. If there had been any windows in the room, the other interviewers would have spent most of their time staring out of it. I started to suspect that they'd not read my application when they asked how much A-Level Sociology teaching experience I had when I was quite clear, on the form, that I had none. The end of the interview came and I was asked if I had any questions. I was tempted to ask whether it was normal in FE college interviews not to be shown around the college, see any teaching rooms, meet any students or be introduced to possible departmental colleages. How on earth was I supposed to know whether I wanted to work here or not? Perhaps I should have asked whether the interviewers were representative of the type of staff who worked there and, if so, why everyone was so bloody miserable. I asked some safe and polite questions about something I don't remember. The interview ended with another embarrassing silence. No one got up to shake my hand. Clearly I was supposed to shuffle off now. I decided to try and puncture the awkwardness by saying 'Perhaps we should do the formal thing and shake hands a ha ha' (so funny) and thrust my hand towards them. The character said something about how he 'would love to shake my hand' in a tone I couldn't mistake for anything but facetiousness. I bit my tongue.

Then the nice woman from personnel escorted me back to reception. In some ways this was the worst part, because we both had to pretend that the whole thing hadn't been a total waste of time. I still had to keep up the bright-eyed keeny act (this is very tiring for me) and express an interest in some aspect of the interview process suitable for small talk in the corridor and she had to pretend, when she told me when to expect the result, that the whole thing was still more than a formality and that I really stood a chance of being offered the job. We both knew that the other was pretending too. I found that desperately humiliating for some reason.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?