The problem with job interviews

I had a job interview last week. It didn’t go too well. This post will be another self-indulgent rant, so if you’re not into that kind of thing, return to Facebook.

Before I begin the rant, I need to acknowledge and accept the obvious:

The problem with the job interview was that I was rejected.

Just in case someone wanted to come along and accuse me of only complaining because I didn’t succeed. Well duh, that’s the point. If they decided I was the ideal candidate then I would have decided theirs was the ideal interview process.

But they didn’t. So now I’m going to complain.

The interview in question was for Teach for Australia. To provide a bit of backstory, I applied three years ago and got as far as the “selection day”, a swanky affair at a big corporate office in Melbourne with free tea and coffee and pastries (I foolishly bought breakfast on the way there, a n00b mistake) and sandwiches and a whole lot of people saying nice things and offering friendly advice and then asking questions like this:

Tell me about a time you have failed.

I was stumped. I don’t really do failure. I cruised through uni with the cushy and perfectly acceptable WAM of right-on-the-cusp-of-HD, drunk some beer, made a lot of friends, watched anime, travelled around the world a bit, destroyed my knee, took some courses here and there and you know, got by.

If I’d ever failed I must have forgotten about it and moved on. What’s failure, anyway?

The other question I stumbled over was even simpler:

Do you use a diary?

Good question. Not exactly. Kind of? I write lists. I have a notebook, I plan shit. I don’t forget my appointments. I know when I have to do something and I do it. Do I have a diary, like with all the dates and days marked out and everything? Well, um, no. Not technically. Not one with a black leather cover and the word Diary in shiny gold letters on the front, if that’s what you’re asking.

I failed.

I called them to get feedback and they said I was great at achievement but lacking in organisation and humility.

I now had an answer for the one about failure.

A few months later some genius took my note taking system and decide to market it as the bullet journal. An answer for the one about the diary.

***

So a few years later I’m sitting at the table waiting for the phone to ring, ready to go. It’s a phone interview. I’ve been through this stage before so I know what to expect. I should be fine, especially if they ask about failure. Or diaries.

But they didn’t. They didn’t even ask me the same questions as the phone interview last time. Not even similar questions. It’s basically that selection day all over again, on a broken phone line from across the world.

(I appreciate that I changed tenses for no reason and thus maybe wouldn’t be a very good teacher after all)

The nice man, whose name was either William or Liam and thus went unnamed for the rest of the conversation, got right into it:

Tell us about a time when you had to lead a team to accomplish a shared goal.

We were off and racing. Sure, I said, I can do that. I had a job at UTS where the aim was to ensure that nothing got too fucked up. I supervised half a dozen staff, we did our jobs, nothing got too fucked up. We went to the pub after work, had a beer, and did it again the next day. After a few weeks without fucking anything up, we took a couple of days’ leave and went to sleep.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the outcome of your leadership?

Well yeah, sure, I mean, I was the leader, and we didn’t fuck anything up. What am I, some sort of self-promotion guru? Not every job has metrics and KPIs and all that jazz,  and besides, I thought you were after humility. We just did what we had to do, got home at midnight, went to bed and started work at 7am the next day. Anyway I waffled on for a while about perfectly true but mundane things like writing new procedures and reports and having less fuck-ups than the year before but not having any numbers to prove it because, you know, that’s how the real world works.

In hindsight I probably should have mentioned diversity, but I’d already rambled on for long enough. Eventually I stopped digging and asked for the next question.

Tell us about a time in an academic or professional setting in which you had to overcome a difficult challenge in order to achieve a goal.

The Teach for Australia website tells me this question is designed to assess one of eight core competencies, resilience. Sadly, being a resilient person and being able to impressively answer this question are not quite the same things. Out went years of resilient activities that I did just because I bloody well wanted to:

  • Living in Singapore, Nepal, Canberra, the USA
  • Swindling visas
  • Riding around Lahore on a motorbike
  • Traversing India in a rickshaw
  • Travelling alone across Asia
  • Hitchhiking across Europe
  • Baking cheesecakes till my back broke
  • Falling in (and out and in and out and in) love
  • Fighting with the Indian police
  • Living in villages you won’t find on Google Maps
  • Being groped, more than once
  • Arguing with strangers on the internet

And so on. All out, to be replaced by ten minutes more waffle about the difficulties of writing an Honours thesis and managing my time and how, well, you know, technically you’re right, I haven’t even achieved my goal.

Epic fail.

Thank you for attending your recent phone interview with Teach For Australia. We enjoyed hearing about your background and experiences.

Unfortunately, after carefully considering all of your interview responses, I regret to inform you that we have decided not to progress your application to the next stage of the selection process. The reason for this is that the evidence you provided in the interview was not as strong as other candidates who we spoke to.

So the point of this rant is that they must have been asking the wrong questions, or looking for the wrong answers, because I’m the person they need, and they didn’t get me. I can’t be broken, because I’m the one writing this blog post, so I get to decide the rules. I’m also really tired and I’ve been staring at a screen all day and starting this post at this time of night really wasn’t a good idea.

And in any case, it doesn’t really matter. Teach for Australia’s market is people in a hurry: people who want to teach without spending two years learning to teach and people who want to do something more useful before they start their careers but don’t want to do something more useful badly enough to let it interrupt their careers.

That’s fair. Maybe the point of this blog post is that, unlike them, I’m hardly in a hurry. And maybe it showed.