I admit it: I am shit at interviews. Doesn't matter how much I prepare and practice because on the day I become a stuttering, mumbling, inarticulate fool.
I applied for a job with the local Police authority as a Tenprint Officer. This job is mainly attempting to identify fingerprints taken from crime scenes. Cool, huh? Well, I thought so.
The first stage of the selection process was an assessment day. Twenty or so candidates were ushered into a room and given an introduction to the history and basic patterns of fingerprints. I was fascinated, my mouth hanging open in wonderment in an especially goofy fashion. We candidates were then given an half hour exam to test our ability to compare fine details. We were presented with pattern images and each one accompanied by four other images, only one of which was identical, and we had to spot the difference. It was great fun and I left the assessment feeling deeply smitten with the idea of doing this for a living.
A week later I received a letter inviting me to an interview. I was so excited and I vowed to give myself every chance of winning the job. As I was temping in the Police authority's finance department, I had access to local crime statistics, departmental development reviews, scene-of-crime procedures and crime reduction strategies. I printed off anything that might be relevant to working in the Fingerprint Bureau. I then looked into the study of fingerprints and found a book by Sir Francis Galton published in 1892 that set the standard for fingerprint classification and is still used today. For two weeks I read and rehearsed answers to likely questions. I had never wanted any job so much as this one. I was going to go into that interview and dazzle the panel with my knowledge and enthusiasm.
The day of the interview finally arrived. I got myself suited and booted, arrived nice an early at the venue, strolled confidently into the interview room with a smile on my face, greeted the three members of the interview panel with a firm handshake and...
I fucked it up.
"OK, we're, uh, going to ask you some competency based questions."
Oh no. Oh shit. No, don't do this to me, not the competency based questions, the same old generic, asinine competency based questions. I want to enthuse about Francis Galton and pattern-types and genes and prove my genuine enthusiasm for the subject...
"What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in a team?"
The... what? Er, OK, um... you have the knowledge and support of other people but... er... sometimes this can lead to indecision. Now, about fingerprints...
[The panel take notes... scribbling... scribbling... tum-te-tum... scribble scribble scribble...]
"Give an example of a task you performed that required following a logical sequence."
What? What the fuck are you talking about? How about making a cup of coffee: that requires a logical sequence. Every task has a logical sequence. Give me an example of a task that requires following an illogical sequence. You see? That question doesn't make any fucking sense! Uh... uh... mumble mumble blah blah... Oh god, I'm fucking this up.
[Scribble... scribble... scribble...]
By the time somebody asked me a question about fingerprints and why I wanted the job I was so despondent that my well-rehearsed enthusiastic answers blundered out of my mouth in an especially feeble and unconvincing manner: "Oh... er... Francis Galton's book... uh... first fingerprint bureau set up in Calcutta in... 1892... no, that was when Galton's book was... and genetics... I read a lot of popular science books... all fascinating... hmm."
To cap it all, the third chap asked me some questions to test my recollection of the presentation I had attended two weeks prior. I rattled off the answers to those with no problem: "Arches, loops and whorls... The delta and the core... IDENT 1... Livescan..." But then he asked a question that stumped me. I foundered. I didn't even remember the thing he asked me about being mentioned at the presentation.
"To be fair," interrupted Panel Member No. 1, "we didn't actually cover that."
"Oh right," said Panel Member No. 3, "I didn't know if you had or not."
Hang on: A man who was not only absent from the presentation but who also didn't know exactly what the presentation consisted of was testing my memory of it? Oh sure, that makes sense.
And then Panel Member No. 3 asks, "Give me an example of when you worked in an office."
That was the point when I nearly lost it completely. "Give you an example of when I worked in a...? You mean apart from the last ten fucking years of my working life? Of course I have worked in fucking offices. You know I've worked in fucking offices because it says so on my application form which you must have read otherwise you wouldn't have invited me to this fucking interview in the first place. Add to that the fact that I have been describing jobs that would obviously have been office-based. You think that I performed the role of Product Manager for a software reseller in a fucking barn? I processed copyright permission requests on a tractor? I updated database records on a laptop as I jumped out of a fucking aeroplane? For fuck's sake, are you thinking about the questions you are asking? Have you even listened to a single fucking word I've said?"
Obviously, I didn't say that. I should have, though, as I knew by that point that I had lost the job.
I was so angry at myself for having allowed my nerves get the better of me yet again despite all my preparations but I was also pissed at the interview panel who were clearly uncomfortable with interviewing candidates, had not consulted each other on what questions they would be asking and were so utterly reliant on their list of pre-prepared competency based questions that they sucked all the life and enthusiasm out of the entire interview.
Give you an example of when I've used my initiative and communication skills? Here's an idea: why don't you demonstrate your initiative and communication skills and have a conversation with me?