Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tales from a Job Interview

I'm not lucky in all areas of life, but there's one area in which I certainly am: not having had very many proper job interviews.  I did have one disastrous interview with the City of Boston (underqualified) straight out of college.  I had one with a temp agency, but I don't really think of that one as a proper interview since it was mostly just a typing test and questionnaire (pulse? y/n).  Then I did have a proper interview for a job working on a research study, but it was really easy.  The woman interviewing me was impressed enough by my alma mater that the interview was only a formality. (I didn't take take the job because of the next one: )  That same week I had an interview for which I had only about an hour's notice, and I had to show up in the khakis I was already wearing, having not prepared at all. Not really a proper interview. I got that job an hour later, took it, and worked in it for five and a half years.

When I moved to Germany, I did have a meeting with the boss, but by the time I arrived in Germany he had already agreed over email to hire me and support my master's thesis, so it wasn't really much of an interview, although it was tense.  He had a tendency for long silent pauses, and at the time I didn't know that was normal for him and thought I was personally trying his patience!  I stopped working there for a while due to funding, and when they wanted me to come back there was no interview, they just called and invited me to work there again.

Since I got here, I've allowed myself so far to be picky about jobs, so I have only applied to about 10. For the temp job I'm in now, there wasn't really an interview - they knew me and I just showed up to confirm the details.  Things aren't too pretty for job-seekers at the moment, so I didn't get an interview for a non-temp job until last week.  Here's how it went.

My experience has been that the employers here have long forms to be filled in to apply - there's no cover letter and resume, you just fill in all the needed information.  There is an essay section which fulfills the same role as a cover letter would have back in my US job hunting days.  You have to make an account with the employer's site to fill in an application, so if you come back to do another application letter most of your information is already conveniently filled out, making subsequent applications much easier.

This job is in the NHS, which has notoriously slow human resources. I submitted the application in December.  D's parents were visiting at the time and while they went on one of their many visits to Cobwebs, I finished up my essay on why I'd rock the job and sent it in.  Then I didn't hear anything at all.  Meanwhile, I took up this temp admin job.

Exactly two months after the application deadline, I got an email inviting me to interview!  At first I was confused - when did I even apply for this? - because it had been so long.  I had to go to back to the NHS job website to confirm that I would attend the interview, which was set for three weeks after I got the notification.  The invitation also said I would have to give a 10-minute Power Point presentation on what the priorities of the team I would be joining should be.

The Power Point really threw me for a loop.  I hadn't had this experience before nor had I heard of it being a thing, but after asking around I found out that it's not too unusual, at least here.  What confused me was the level the Power Point topic seemed to be at compared to the level of the job description (and pay scale, ha).  According to the description & pay, the position is under someone who is in a more senior version of the exact same role, but the Power Point having me talk about priorities made it sound like the expectations of me would be higher.  How could I know what should be prioritized when I've never done this before, and they know that from my application? I must be some wild card interviewee.

Anyway, I did all my research and about three days before the interview I wrote up ten slides.  They weren't anything special.  I fretted because my interview was at 3:30pm, probably the last in the day, and my Power Point was probably going to have the same generic points in it that everyone else's would and the interviewers - a panel of three - would be totally sick of hearing the same stuff over and over.  And I had to go buy a blazer, which was annoying.  There are a lot of ugly blazers out there.  I didn't want to go for a whole suit, though, because the last one I had I wore probably 3 times before it went out of style and turned into a horrific ball of frump.

But, onward.  I found the interview location and was there ten minutes early.  Signs in the hallway pointing to "Interviews" and a "Quiet: Interviews in progress" sign on the department door made it seem like a big deal and made me feel more nervous. I wondered how many they were interviewing.

The department is in a hospital and they had me wait in a patient waiting area.  The only other people I saw were patients. I thought I'd see some other overdressed nerves-ball leaving before I was called in, but I didn't.  Someone came out, asked me if  I was me, I said I was, and suddenly I was in a tiny shoebox of a room just big enough to hold me and the three interviewers.  They had me just sit at the table to give my Power Point, because it was really awkward to be standing for it in that room.

My presentation was totally devoid of any presentation skills.  Maybe I should have practiced it. I never practice my presentations, I always wing them, and it's always gone well enough.  I had been planning on standing and wasn't as good at using my notes while sitting.  Especially those notes I always have to write to myself that say, "Slow!  Slow!  Slow!  Slow!" because I talk too fast even when not presenting, and it's worse when presenting.  The panel nodded a lot at my content.  Bored nodding that they've already seen it all today, I guess.

They said my presentation was "very good" (who knows what it means?*), then they started in with the questions.  Many of the questions felt really generic and could only be really generically answered.  So much felt like a re-hash of what I'd written in my application or what I'd mentioned in my presentation.  They would nod and continue on after I felt like I had only half-answered with some lame generic answer.  To me it seemed they'd already eliminated me on the basis of my generic presentation and were just going through the motions of asking me the required questions so they could finish up for the day.

Determined to at least not be the worst person they saw that day, when they turned the floor over to me to ask them questions, I tried to salvage the interview.  I had TONS of questions and they were not about salary and hours....they were about the nuts and bolts of their projects and procedures and methods.  Things felt better after that point.  They liked talking about everything they were doing and planned to do.  The funny thing is that I'd probably not have generated as many questions if I hadn't been so worried about the presentation.

From the behavior of the different panel members, I started to silently make guesses as to their thoughts on me.  One person kept making references to stuff remembered from my application.  "That person got me in the door today," I thought.  I identified with that person, too; they reminded me of myself in my Boston job.  There was another person who, aside from a couple of positive comments, seemed nonplussed.  "That's the one who will argue against it if the other tries to make a case for me," I guessed. "That person wants someone with a different personality."  The third person was one of those really nice people whose general amiable nature makes them really hard to figure out.  No idea about that one.  I could see they wanted a lot of different things for this role and wondered if there was going to be any tension about that in the deliberations.  At least the conversation was going better now that we were off their scripts and on mine. Still, it felt like an eternity.  At one point I looked around the table and was a little spooked at how familiar they all looked; could I possibly have known them before? No, it just felt like I had because the whole thing felt so long.

We finally finished up. They collected information from my required IDs and certificates. The one who didn't like me seemed a little sassy about it. Then they took my phone number and said they would decide within the next couple of hours, so I should keep my phone with me. I almost forgot my data stick in their laptop.  They reminded me where the exit was and I was out.

It was just before 4:30 and I didn't know what to do with myself. I had the rest of the day off but I had to stop back at my office (very nearby) to pick up some things, so I ended up just working until 5.  I didn't know whether I really wanted to stay with my phone or not.  I asked my coworkers if they thought the interviewers would call me if I didn't get the job, because that would be awkward and I didn't want to deal with that call.

At 5 I left the office and went to the train station.  Then D texted and offered to buy me a much-needed drink, so I left the train station and walked to his office (also nearby).  As I neared his door, the phone rang from a private number.  I thought maybe it was D calling from his office phone or something.  I got to his door and looked in the window and it wasn't him.

I answered. It was the interviewer who didn't like me. I stood in the hallway outside D's office and listened to her tell me that they thought I did a really great job, that they were "blown away" and "so relieved" that I "came through today" and at this point my brain has already stopped functioning because what!?

In some fuzzy haze during which I don't think I was breathing, she offered me (provisionally) the job and I (provisionally) accepted it.

I think you have to understand the mindset that creeps in when you've been out of work for a while, and add to it the mindset of the foreigner.  I wasn't depressed about my abilities or lack of job by any means - I was content (okay...secretly thrilled) with my housewifey ways.  But, living for 7 years in a country where I didn't have native fluency did start to give me a subtle feeling of general incompetence.  On top of that, because of all this being-a-foreigner stuff I have a patchy job history with mostly sideways moves and several years out of work.  I'd applied for jobs here below the grade of this job - jobs for which I was bona-fide wayyyyy overqualified - and not even made it to interview.  That wore on me, too. 

There might also be something to be said here about our own perceptions of how we are doing and how we are actually doing. Or maybe no one else even showed up to interview that day.

So really I have no idea how this happened, and am sad that for me the 9-5 is probably here to stay, but to be finally thought of as potentially competent at something complicated has been surprisingly uplifting and I am so glad someone gave me a chance.  Plus, the job looks like a really good fit for my skills and personality.  Yeah, that's straight off the app, but it's true.  I won't apply if it means I have to outright lie.

Still can't believe it.

* I just read this again for the umpteenth time, why do I STILL think it's funny?


  1. Congratulations! I get the mixed feelings you have, but it's so exciting to start a new job, one that will challenge you. So kudos and have fun. :)

  2. Congratulations--my best wishes for a good start... this is awesome news!

  3. Provisional congratulations! Fun read!

  4. At one point I looked around the table and was a little spooked at how familiar they all looked; could I possibly have known them before?

    OMG, I thought that was my private damage!

    Herzlichen Glückwunsch!

  5. Many congratulations! I am vastly behind in my blog reading, obviously.

    This sound like a harrowing experience, but I completely understand- I despise the entire job interview process. I hate job hunting only slightly more than I hate dating or dental visits. That is to say, I dislike it immensely.

    By the way, I found myself nodding in agreement when I got to this sentence: "But, living for 7 years in a country where I didn't have native fluency did start to give me a subtle feeling of general incompetence."

    This is totally my day to day life. I've only been here for a shade under two and a half years, and I'm still basically useless in any conversation that isn't about ordering a hamburger. People speak German to me and even if it's words that I know, my brain still won't parse meaning out of it. Living here day to day is incredibly frustrating- without Google Translate and the occasional help from a friend to parse my physical junk-mail, I would be completely insane by now.

    Anyway, I digress. Congrats on the new gig!

  6. app utvikling

    I januar 2012 startet jeg Appsonite AS og senere på året sa jeg opp min faste jobb. Jeg har nå laget rundt 50-60 apper. 30 av disse er i egen portefølje. Jeg har hatt flere topp 10 apper i Norge, og har siden starten lært uhorvelig mye om hva som fungerer og hva som ikke fungerer i app store.
    Jeg har nå et team på 3-4 personer som hjelper meg å designe og utvikle apper. Disse har jobbet med meg nesten fra starten. Vi har nå godt innarbeidede rutiner og vet hva som fungerer.

    Mange ganger har jeg hørt folk si at alle apper er jo laget. Er det behov for flere? Det var de samme som sa at alt var gjort på internett i 2003, så kom Facebook, Youtube..etc. Vi er nok enda bare i starten på mobil applikasjoner og bruken av dem.

    Ønsker du å jobbe med et lite, men eksklusivt app firma, ta kontakt med oss. Hvis du ønsker å lage det beste, og få mest ut av ideen din, så må man tenke gjennom prosjektet nøye og planlegge godt. Vi må skjønne nøyaktig hva du ønsker, og så lager vi et utkast til en nydelig mobil applikasjon. Vi gir oss ikke før du er 100% fornøyd. Vi jobber helst med seriøse bedrifter og personer som setter krav til sitt produkt og ønsker å lage det beste. website: www.appsonite.no

  7. app utvikling

    I 2011 startet jeg å lage min første app: Job Interview app. En iPhone/iPad app som jobbsøkere kan øve på jobb intervju. Jeg fikk laget over 100 video snutter som ble lagt inn i appen. Videosnutter med spørsmål, svar og forslag til hvordan besvare spørsmålene. Når man har sett videoene kan man ta opp seg selv og se hvordan man svarer. Dette var min første app og etter lansering ble det en stor fiasko. Men jeg nektet å gi opp. Jeg forbedret grafikken, endret funksjonalitet, la inn sjekk lister, quiz, flip cards og masse mer. Nedlastningene er nå vel over fem sifret. website: www.appsonite.no

  8. Congratulations ! .... You have really awesome bag of Experiences loving to read all your blog , This one was Fun to read.

    Jobs Alert


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