Words by Luke Alland.
It's something we've nearly all done. Some absolutely relish it, others can't run away from them fast enough. Job interviews. Some are weird, some are wonderful, but the majority can be an anxiety-inducing activity. If you've been on both sides of the divide, you can definitely appreciate what makes a good and what makes a terrible interview.
I've done my fair share of interviews in my life, whether that be for a Shoreditch-based start-up or for stacking shelves at Sainsbury's. You find yourself in a random offshoot room stuck in front of a number of people you're trying to sus out as much as they are trying to you. They start in the same vain, the pleasantries are run through like a 4-minute-mile with introductions to the varying people who's names you've definitely already forgotten as you try to remember what you wrote in the cover letter. Depending on the importance of the performance, escaping a job you're already in or getting a new job after being let go, we can pile undue pressure on ourselves for thinking we're not good enough, or interesting enough, In reality, however, you've got one foot in the door. If any potential employer wants to take a punt on meeting you either over video-call or in-person, you must've done something right in the first place.
Sometimes things can go off-piste and that's where it can get really interesting. When I was 18, I had to go up to York for an interview with North-Eastern railway. It was for a job working at Newcastle Central station (another story for another day. I thought I'd got through to the final few, but I ended up being way off the mark. I walked into a room with about 35 other people in, all older than I. They turned in unison to see the latest piece of competition as I walked in, all sat around on those uncomfortable conference chairs found ubiquitously in large head offices around the world.
The day started off with us filling out the usual stack of paperwork which they definitely wouldn't have had the time to go through. This then led into us essentially speed-dating 10 different people, all with varying questions, that we had to answer within three minutes. Once that was complete, they sat us all down with one of the most disappointing lunches I've had in my life and called out the names of various people without telling us what for. My name crops up in fourth position and I get up to follow the first three out the room. Believing my day to be over as there was still four hours left, I'd accepted my fate.
I was, as it turns out, completely wrong and we were the four that had made it through to the final stage. 'I made it to Judge's Houses!' I thought to myself. After another one-to-one interview, I was asked to complete one final task.
"We'd like you to make a mock train announcement. You can make it up if you'd like."
You've got to be joking.
I'm in a room with only three other people and they want me to pretend to be the fat controller. I ask for a second or two to create an imaginary scenario in my head. If they're going to put me through this, I thought, how can I get a dig in at how bad the trains are? Leaves on the line, had to be done.
I stand up and in the clearest, most train station-y voice, come up with, "We are sorry to announce that the next train to Newcastle Central, departing from Platform 7, will be delayed by approximately five hours. This is due to a technical difficulty with leaves on the line. We apologise for the delay."
I get away with it, somehow. After my mortifying and yet Oscar-worthy performance, I head back to London without knowing if I'd got it or not. They rang me up three months later, after I'd actually ended up moving to Germany... to offer me the job. I politely declined, as I thought the commute might be a bit much.
It took me years to actually be on the other side of the curtain and get to interview people for roles myself, and there will always be one person who will stand head and shoulders above everyone else for possibly the worst interview I've witnessed. The answers they gave weren't absolutely terrible. No. This was something much stranger.
Myself and another colleague logged into the Teams meeting, awaiting our latest candidate. The previous three had been pleasant enough, but just lacked any sort of experience and skill for the vacancy we needed to fill. This person had the CV—but did they have the skills to get it over the line? Absolutely not. As they joined the call from their room, there was the constant sound of birdsong ringing through my headset in-between almost every word they uttered.
I thought the window must be open and that they must live next to a parrot sanctuary. Lo and behold, I started to see two of them flying about the room in a circling pattern, one landing on the corner of the bunk bed behind them, absolutely launching into a rendition of what I can only imagine was a mating call for the other. This continued for a few minutes before eventually, the interviewee had recognised their mistake.
"I really should've put them in the cage outside, shouldn't I?"
Yes mate, you really should've.