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INTERVIEW HELL
ANON


I want this job I want this job…But alas no mantra works.
As I walk up the stairs and through the swing doors I instantly forget my well-rehearsed verbal CV and it is happily replaced with the more fitting lines of Dylan Thomas. ‘I must put my pyjamas in the drawer marked pyjamas, I must take my cold bath which is good for me, I must dress behind the curtain and put on my apron, I must blow my nose in a tissue paper which I afterwards burn…’

The room is high-ceilinged, white-washed and impersonal. The squat man in the corner watches me over the rims of his spectacles. He looks like a referee at a boxing match. The blue suited woman beside him flexes her fingers. They crack audibly like the whip of seniority. I put my folder carefully onto the desk beside me so as not to fiddle with it. I fold my hands carefully across my knee, quietly concealing any broken or chewed nails. I lean my head forward slightly so that no-one should remain in doubt of my intelligence, interest or intuition. The three ‘r’s are nothing beside the three Interview ‘i’s. My mouth is stretched into an aching smile (I slept with a coathanger in my mouth!) And the interview kick-starts with the assault on my CV. They are not shy. They do not hold back their comments for kindness’ sake. I groan inwardly, for outwardly I remain charmingly calm. I try to regret my years out travelling. I think of the colour and vigour of Singapore Saturdays, the Borneo jungles, wild nights in Jakarta, sailing up water in Sumatera, wild bears and bonfires in Transylvania. I look back at my assailants. They wouldn’t last a minute climbing Krakatau volcano! She’d melt and he wouldn’t manage the boatride out! The thought makes me feel better but doesn’t much help.

I hold forth about the strengths these travels have equipped me with. I don’t mention the blisters and beauty, the drink or the death risks I enjoyed. I do David Livingstone proud. The intrepid explorer making a purely cultural study. Do I sound penitent? Am I forgiven these ‘free-spirited years’ stolen from employment? Should I add Missionary to the list of attributes this soul-searching uncovered? Would that help bridge the void to ‘experience?’

I doubt it. These models in front of me have never had a day off in their lives. He’s afraid of being caught napping but nap he does, while she runs scared up the ladder, the higher she gets the greater the fall but how she loves calling down to the ones on the ground holding it steady! Next my qualifications are examined. It is clear that I took the adage: ‘Your schooldays are the best days of your life’ too seriously! But hey, I like learning, I liked being a student. I wore my baggy trousers and loose jackets with pride. I perfected the roll-up smoke years before Oasis made it trendy. I was a great peasant. For me, Tesco’s 9p beans were the bee’s knees. I lived the blue and white stripe life with pride because I knew it wasn’t infinite. With my brains and bits of paper something great was waiting round the corner. It still might be but getting there is proving to be a bore. Not just a slight pisser but a real full-blown demoralising, dis-heartening up-hill climb. And it’s grim!

A fundamental Christian once criticised my appetite for school, telling me ‘paper burns in hell’ I laughed then, but now I’m beginning to think a wipe out might be a good move. Hide the MA, shelve the PG Dip, don’t tell a soul about the ‘A’ grades and for goodness sake keep quiet about any prizes. That way you are in with a chance. Because nobody likes a junior with more brains than the boss. It doesn’t matter what she lacks in experience, it’s just not cricket and she could be after your job! Now it is my turn to do the asking. No problem, I have a mile of well researched, exceptionally well-crafted thought-pieces. I pepper this repertoire with the obligatory questions concerning day-to-day tasks. I thrill at the ‘making tea’ bits. I try to hold my jaw steady when they mention the salary, blinking back the tears as I realise the blue-stripe menu is here to stay. I enthuse about the company. I disarm them with my awareness of current affairs, trends in the market.

They shuffle their papers. I look humble. I shut the **** up quickly. Was I a bit OTT? Well I couldn’t have been as strident as the BBC trained woman waiting her turn outside. And I passed the test. Hell I was shortlisted from 600 to twenty to get here. I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I shouldn’t be so keen. I should be keener. ‘I want this job…’ ‘Right’ says the boring, ugly beast in his corner. And his face breaks into a sweaty grin and I know what he is about to ask and I shudder. I physically shake because the net is cast. I know everything is over because I can’t tell lies!!
‘How would your friends describe you?’ he beams.
I gag. I grin inanely. Modest, gurgling murmurs spring from my mouth like unwelcome visitors. My head moves inadvertently. I am smiling like a bimbo. There is nothing demure or composed left. I look at the blue-suited ice maiden and yearn for her spiky confidence. She is sharp and crystal. She looks at my slimy writhing. I am a worm to her stiletto. The pause is stretching wide as the hangman’s noose. I know damn well what my friends say about me: I am gauche and impatient. I laugh at all the wrong moments. Red wine was invented for me. I’m always sick before I fall over. I can’t say no very loudly. I take risks with no thought for the consequences. In short I live but how to make that positive or even slightly understandable to the frigid pension paying, highly insured couple here is an alarming challenge.

I’ve been here before. I know the buzz words. Definitely, Charismatic, Motivated, Leader, Determined, Success, Individual, Teamplayer blah blah. I manage one crumbly sentence. We all wait. We all wish for pictures in this cold square room. Nothing else presents itself to me. They look at each other. The squat man grins through his chins. He’s not worried now. The blue-suit stares with a flicker of pity at me. We all shrug. I can hear her shouting about the shortlist before I get through the hall. I didn’t want the job anyway.

And yet…for the next week I wait with escalating anticipation for the letter. As each day passes the certainty of failure departs. I begin to mentally spend my new salary. Okay, so I’ll still be poor but I won’t be this poor. I’ll be a worker. I’ll be someone. I’ll get promoted quickly. I’m a fast-learner. I’m easy to get on with. People like me. It is self evident that I am capable for this job. I was made for it. They’ll have given me the benefit of the doubt. I give myself the benefit of the doubt. The postman laughs at my impatience. The letter duly arrives. I don’t have to open it. The second class frank says it all. I drink my coffee. I file the letter with the other 70 rejections. I have been collecting them for two months now.
‘Things’ll change.’
'All that study wasn’t for nothing’,
‘You’ll get lucky’,
‘Give it time’…
My friends all mean well. But I’m as bored by their comments as they are by my mounting negativity, but never as bored by the feedback I keep getting: ’too many qualifications and not enough experience.’ Chicken and egg? I need a break soon because there is no ‘h’ in wine the way I like to drink it or drown in it!!!

Anon


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