Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Bitter Pill

I went for a job interview the other day as a designer in the print department of a pill factory.

Interviews have never bothered me. A lot of people quake in their boots at the thought of an interview, but I have always had the ability to breeze them. I’m not blowing my own trumpet or being big headed or anything, but I’ve just always approached them with an unerring level of confidence, and that confidence has usually been enough to get me a job offer on the spot, and usually while there are still people waiting outside to be interviewed.

So I guess you could forgive me for thinking that this interview was going to be a ‘Piece of cake’. That it was ‘In the bag’ as it where--- nothing, I can assure you, could’ve been further from the truth.

You see my last proper job interview took place over twenty years ago, and it was in a totally different time. A job interview in those days involved you turning up with a suit and tie, filling their willing little heads with what they wanted to hear and going out to get bladdered on the strength of a new job offer. But, as I was to discover, a lot has changed in twenty years.

Nowadays it’s totally different. First, and always assuming you get past the gruelling job application stage, which in itself is ten pages longer than the name address and inside leg measurement application form of yesteryear, you have to turn up for the interview with a passport and a copy of your bank statement, (presumably so they can have a look at your balance to see how desperately you need this job and how little they can get away with offering you) then they sit you down in front of what they call a ‘ simple little ICT test’; these are usually multiple choice questions based around a pie chart and silly little conundrums about computers.

So I sat there, bemused and thinking that the modern job market was now completely geared towards young pimply faced social inadequates with an aversion to sunlight, and whose only CV post reads: I ONCE GOT THE HIGHEST SCORE ON SONIC THE HEDGEHOG, while here am I, a bloke who’s in his late forties, with a wealth of life and job skill experiences looking at a test sheet, a ruler, six different coloured highlighter pens and a pencil.
                And I was only given half an hour to re adjust to this new world order and get acclimatised to the sinking feeling that was Titanicing its way through my whole body.

When the half hour was up my head was still swimming with HTML codes, pie charts, excel spread sheet diagrams and images of how many atoms you could realistically balance on the head of a pin, when the smirking little four year old came in to enquire as to whether I had completed her ‘simple little test’ yet. The wild look of desperation that emanated from my fixed and dilated pupils must have told her that I probably needed a few more minutes, so she gently clicked the door to and went back to the typing pool or crèche, as it more accurately resembled.

She came back a while later, gave me the sweet kind of look that she no doubt reserved for her granddad as he was dribbling soup out of the corner of his mouth, and said, we really must be going to the next stage of the interview, Mr Dixon, and ushered me out of the exam room and into the interview room where I was confronted by two severe looking female interviewers; one looked like she had just come on her period and the other like she’d lost her HRT patch two hours ago and she was having a bitch of a day. The nightmare, it would appear, was not over.

They then grilled me about all kinds of things:
Was I a team player?
I said ‘I’d once played in goal for the county’ but flippancy, it would appear, was not on the menu.
‘Did I get on with people?’
‘Normally’, I replied and was about to bounce into a flowery soliloquy on the subject when PMT cut me short wanting to know what I knew about the company.
I looked at her blankly. I knew nothing about it, why should I, I’d never worked for them, and I was about to voice this point when HRT stabbed me with another question.
‘Why did I want to work for them?’
‘To fight off starvation, isn’t that why everyone goes out to work?’---wrong answer, HRT woman scribbled so furiously on her note pad the sentence ripped through four pages and I’m sure she was snorting while she wrote.
After what felt like hours of unrelated question after unrelated question being fired, cannon like at me, I found myself sitting there, punch drunk and looking at their dual mouths as they moved, but no sound appeared to be coming out of their gaping maws.

It was PMT who snapped me out of my reverie with a sudden
‘Right, all that’s left now is to show you around’.
‘There’s more?’ I said.
‘Oh yes, we need to show you how the company works, and the levels of cleanliness our clients demand from us’. So off we went; me with slumped shoulders following in the wake of a goose stepping Frau as we headed for the nearest building. HRT presumably went back to her cave and hung upside down until the next interview victim was trawled, shell shocked into her interview lair.

When we got to our destination PMT informed me that we needed to wear the correct attire, and that meant coat, head wear and shoe covers; so as no outside contaminant could get through. She then handed me a bunch of stuff and left me to get changed.

I looked at the various garments; still through the hazy fugginess of a prize fighter who’s just come through fifteen rather unsuccessful rounds with the champion, so I could be forgiven for not being ‘with it’. It’s also worth noting that I’ve never put this kind of outfit on before, so when Frau PMT came back a few moments later and found me trying to put the shoe cover on my head, and turning to her with a proud smile, she just shuddered and said to follow her.

Now I’m a cheerful person by nature so it came as a very pleasant surprise to see so many happy people. Every room we went into and every machine operator I spoke to seemed to want to burst into laughter, and indeed once I’d left their room they did burst into spontaneous hilarity. The workers certainly were a jolly lot and when my tour was over and it was time for me to go, they all came out to have another look at me. And as the door closed behind us, the place once again erupted into hysterics.

Once we were outside, Frau PMT shook my hand and sent me on my way. And that was it. That was my introduction to the modern world of the interview. A thoroughly unpleasant world; a world that expects you to know as much about the company as its founder did, a world that wants you to feel like a child and sit silly little exams and a world that no longer holds experience as a virtue but instead rewards forelock tugging and arse licking.

Give me a person who knows what they’re talking about any day, a person who is able to think on their feet and solve problems based on a knowledge gained from years of experience in that field rather than someone who can tell you how many apples Mrs Brown has at the checkout at any given time and illustrate it with coloured pens, pie charts, pencils and a ruler.

‘What is the world coming to’, I thought as I drove gratefully away from this alien world.

I didn’t get the job, in case you were wondering, but on a positive note, they did let me keep the hat, which I’m wearing now as I write this blog.


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