This is how it started. An interview. It took me 17 weeks to get here – 33 failed applications and one unsuccessful phone conversation with HR to be exact. I have learnt that there are only so many ways one can put together a rejection letter – “Thank you for showing interest… we regret to inform you that…”, “We have a high number of applicants for this position… unfortunately you were not selected…”, “Following careful consideration of all candidates, I regret to…” – I am familiar with it all. Most companies drag it out unnecessarily. They adopt what I like to refer to as the “let you down nice and easy” approach – first, they thank you for expressing your interest in the position; then, they add a sentence or two about the number of applicants going for the position; finally, they end with an apology. Some even went as far as to say they like my application, and that they will be in touch should a much better suited position come up in the near future. Maybe they are trying to offer some sense of hope… how nice. My personal favourite is a plain no nonsense email with the subject line “Sorry – you didn’t get the job”.
“So James… tell me… what annoys you most?” Matt asks. Matt is one of the managers in charge of hiring for the position. He is accompanied by Richard from senior management and Michelle from HR. Matt has been asking me all sorts of tricky questions since the start of the interview, everything from technical puzzles to psychometric questions. I can’t help but feel he is trying to set me up for failure – even Richard and Michelle look surprised at some of his questions. Surely they have gone through all the questions together? Am I the first person they’ve interviewed? What about all the other candidates? Are they getting the same set of questions? My mind starts to wonder…
“James?” Matt continues. I mumble something as my mind goes into overdrive trying to find an appropriate answer. This seems like a trick question. Any answer I provide could potentially be construed as a negative. Paperwork? Well there is paperwork in this position. Difficult client? Expect that to be part of the job. Ambiguous project scope? Part of being in a business environment. Just about anything I say could work against my application. Having attended several tricky job interviews in the past, I am well aware that any answer I provide could prompt further follow-up questions. Hiring managers tend to scrutinise everything you say. They frame everything as a potential character flaw and put you on the defensive.
“I am sorry?” Matt asks. “Traffic! I get annoyed at peak hour traffic.” I say – somewhat surprised by my own answer. Phew. Nice save (or so I thought) – a universal annoyance that can’t be faulted. I mentally give myself a pat on the back, ignoring the bead of sweat dripping down on the side of my forehead. The thing with interviews is no matter how much you prepare, you can never really tell what type of questions they are going to throw at you. This is not to say that you shouldn’t prepare for the job interview; rather, to always expect unexpected questions.
Matt seems unsatisfied with my answer. “Can you give me something that is work related?” He presses on. I am stunned by his persistence, and a little bit annoyed that he is trying to tie a negative trait to my personality as part of the job application. This has got to be one of the trickiest job interview question thrown at me to date. There were others of course – weird and funny ones like “Do you drink Speights?” and “What do you think of the Highlanders?” But nothing like this.
Stay focused James. Focus, I think to myself. I try to think of various ways I can come up with a reasonable answer but I find myself hitting a brick wall. The truth is, there are many things that annoy me at work – from favouritism amongst management to a lack of communication amongst team members working on a project – but these are just part and parcel of any job in any work environment. I am willing to bet that anyone who has ever worked in an office environment before has felt the same way at some point in their working life, whether they like to admit to it or not. But these aren’t the answers I feel I can provide in the interview because they could be interpreted in so many different ways; most of which would work against my application, especially if the answer provided lacks context.
Matt continues to give me a blank stare, expecting me to give him a reply any second now. “I um…” I mumble. Great. Another job application down the drain; back to square one. I can’t think of a way out of this. Maybe I’ll just have to give him a generic answer just to move this interview along – chalk this up as a learning experience. Paperwork? Ambiguous emails? Pointless tasks? I can’t think of anything good.
“James can you tell us why you are interested in working here?” Richard interrupts – breaking what seems like an eternity of silence. I let out a sigh of relief and recite what I have remembered about the company and how it syncs with what I am looking for career wise, secretly relieved that I didn’t have to answer Matt’s question. I have a feeling Richard just wants to move the meeting along, (possibly) annoyed at some of the questions Matt’s been throwing at me. The rest of the interview goes smoothly. I’m asked pretty standard questions such as start date, referee, expected salary, etc.
“Thanks for coming James. We will let you know of the outcome in due course.” Richard stands up and offers me a hand shake. I thank everyone for their time and put on a smile. I leave the interview room, relieved that it is over. Now the waiting game begins.
**End of Chapter Two**