The Interview Panel: how not to get a job (Candidate No. 10).

“How does anyone who works in an abattoir put their feet up at the end of the day and relax?” I found myself musing in that liminal space which is both post- and pre-candidate.  “A bit of light butchery?  A long standing taxidermal project based on a seascape of Whitehaven?”

We had had a long, trying day by the time Candidate No. 8 had left us high and dry and we needed time to recuperate.  Which we did, in our usual sanguine fashion.

So it was with some relief that we could welcome  Candidate No. 10 into the interview room and proceed through the pitch and the putt that constitutes the interview transactional dance.

We are ultimately professionals so were able to put the immediate past behind us and concentrate on the relative merits of the candidate which in the case of Number 10, were quite considerable (although not a patch on their predecessor, Number 8, we would quietly confide to each other in the conveniences at the end of the day.)

I am happy to report that The Panel was well behaved and sat in their seats throughout the process. The Candidate was interested – but not too interested.  He smiled – but not for too long.  He answered all questions with courtesy and reverence.  He asked pertinent questions and spoke when he was spoken to. He stood up and sat down in the right order. The time fairly flew by.

The process concluded with the usual dazzling array of smiles from us and a humble tugging of the forelock by him.  We assured him we would be in touch by the end of the week and he backed out of the room, bowing all the way.

Job well done we thought. Only two more to go and then it’s back off home, put our feet up on our respective spouses and while away the evening before doing it all over again tomorrow.  Just two more to go.

The Interview Panel: how not to get a job (Candidate No. 8).

Once in a while the interview panel meets someone who they collectively fall in love with. The candidate enters the interview room sporting an impressive halo and from that moment on they can do wrong.

It’s at times like these when the stony faces crack, the hardened hearts soften and to a man and woman, we show our sensitive sides and yearn for the candidate to bestow their approving looks on us mere mortals.

“Like ME.”
“LIKE me.”
.” We whisper to ourselves out of earshot to anything except the dogs out in the forecourt who can detect our collective misery from over 800 yards.

We become pathetic in our desire to be loved and the canny candidate will spot that yearning and exploit it to the hilt.

This afternoon was a case in point. The very lovely Mr. Llewellyn walked in almost invisibly but a quick turn of the head, a wink of the eye and a shake of his gravitas had us all swooning and hanging on to his every word. Even Harrison, with her penchant for obsessively shiny shoes was bowled over by the state of his footwear. He made us laugh, he made us cry, he quietened down the dogs until they were no more than a sigh in the mid afternoon heat haze that seemed to have enveloped the Interview Room.

Indeed, he was such the perfect candidate that our chairman, Woolfit, suggested we throw caution to the winds and offer him the job there and then. The panel were unanimous in their approval for such radical action. Bungle undid his top button; Hengquist threw off her shawl; Latchitt tore off his shirt to bare a remarkably hairy chest for one so old; and even Harrison was moved to striking out in a bossa nova, her chair in hand as she swooned around the room, mindful of the ongoing gaze of the candidate.

But to our collective horror, the frightful Llewellyn proceeded to double cross us. Instead of graciously accepting the offer of employment, he declined it loudly and unequivocally. He threw his papers on the desk in front of him and marched out of the room leaving everyone in a state of fuddled confusion and mindless mayhem.

Soon the confusion mutated to anger though when we realised what he had done. He had rejected us. Us, the Interview Panel. The ones who offer the work had suddenly found ourselves in a place where our work in offering work had become redundant.

To say we were furious would be understating the case. Hell hath no fury like an interview panel scorned and we were now about to unleash that fury on unwitting Candidate No. 9 who was about to be pushed in through the door.

The Interview Panel: how not to get a job (Candidate No. 7).

Waving not drowning. That’s how a candidate might like to approach the Interview Panel, especially if they’re of the bright eyed, bushy tailed and  bubblingly sort of enthusiastic individual for whom ‘no’ never means ‘no ‘ but is just a delayed way of hearing ‘yes’.

The bubblehead (as they are referred to the trade) invariably bounces into the interview room, shakes everyone vigorously by both hands and beams. In fact, they don’t stop beaming. Ever. They’re like a lighthouse whose light has stopped revolving but just keeps shining out to sea, irrespective of the weather conditions or the temper of the Interview Panel.

Our job in these cases is to convert the waving into drowning and a very simple process it is too. You just ask an impossibly open question, sit back, watch,  enjoy the scenery and offer the odd word of encouragement once in a while.

“So, tell me about your experience of something or another that may or may not have anything to do with this job.”

Bubblehead beams.  There’s nothing more they like than the opportunity to enthuse endlessly about anything and everything. And off they trot, bumping into the furniture as they proceed to wax lyrical about Themselves, the Job, the Interview Panel, the Firm, the World, the Solar System, the Galaxy, the Universe. And when they stop, in a moment of self doubt that they may have said too much, you just raise a quizzical eyebrow or look over your spectacles down your nose at them and say ‘and?’ in a gentle tone which suggests you’re interested in their answer.

And off they go again, bubbling back from the outer reaches of their Universe through neighbouring star systems on their way to Planet Earth when all at once the fateful moment happens. They dry up. They’re lost for words. They’ve lost the plot and the beaming freezes into a panic stricken smile. The hands – which once gesticulated with the vim, vigour and conviction of a Pentecostal priest – are suspended momentarily mid-air. Their arms are held aloft and then the moment comes when they realise they are drowning and they start to thrash.

It’s not a pretty sight, seeing a candidate drown in their own enthusiasms but it does fill one with a sobering humility.

“There but for the grace of God,” my colleague mutters to me once the remains of the  candidate has been washed out of the Interview Room. I concur, grateful that I shall never have to suffer the indignation of being an unbridled enthusiast looking for a job.

The Interview Panel: how not to get a job (Candidate No. 6).

There are four inviolable givens of the interview process and they are these. One: we interview you, not the other way around. Two: we know more about you, than you do about us. Three: we have a job to dispense to some lucky beneficiary and you don’t. Four: we make the final decision. End of.

These givens have operated more or less satisfactorily over the centuries in all manner of workplaces: from the sweat shop in Delhi to the high rise penthouse in Manhatten, everyone knows that the interviewer has the power, the influence and the grace to bestow favours left right and centre to whomsoever the fancy takes them.

Never mind the ninnies who wring their hands and whinge plaintiffly about transparency, accountability and ( dread phrase) ‘equal opportunities’: the fact is, the interview transaction takes no prisoners and is unparalleled in its ability to wreak pleasure and pain in the same afternoon.

Until recently, that is.

The uncomfortable fact for us traditionalists on the interview panel is that there is a new fandangled invention which threatens to un-give all our givens and wreak havoc. That invention is The Social Media.

Social media. The phrase sends shivers through the very fabric of every member of The Interview Panel. It causes grown men to blush, grown women to grow pale and the dogs out in the forecourt to howl for their lives.

And by Social Media I mean the abominations that are FussPot, Twiddle and LickedUp: not forgetting their miserable spin offs, TittleTattle, Ignoranus and God (the search engine previously known as Google).

What social media has led to is a diabolical inversion of the Interview givens. Now, after five minutes flicking through FussPot, candidates can find out about every panel member’s personal foibles and fallibilities. Ten minutes on LickedUp enables candidates to think they can talk on an equal footing with the great and the good of the Interview Panel. 3 days on Twiddle may well turn a candidate into mindless moron with as much capability of holding a conversation as a jelly fish, but it also means they can spout uncomfortable gossip about The Firm’s human rights legacy and other irritatingly irritating pieces of malicious gossip that are completely unfounded.

So, when a candidate leisurely lounges over the interview hot seat and enquires over my personal dental record and whether The Firm’s recent shenanigans in Botswana were addressed by a secret shareholders meeting in time for the recent flotation on the Chinese stock market, there is only one thing a reasonable panel member can do. Call in the dogs and take a five minute comfort break whilst they do their worst. No-one likes a clever clogs, especially a clever clogs without a job who’s versed in social media.

The Interview Panel: how not to get a job (Candidate No. 5).

Dress code. Ah, the thorny subject of the dress code. Many have spoken about dress code; many more have written about the protocols relating to tie length, luminosity of shining shoes and whether or not a waistcoat is an asset or a liability in the Interview process.

Myself, I am partial to any candidate turning up dressed in a jovial tartan waistcoat for the rigours of the interview. It means they are ready for a bit of cut and thrust with panel members and not afraid to take a bit of a slapping on their private parts when it comes to feeding back on their performance after their abortive attempt to secure gainful employment in the Firm.
But I appreciate that the rest of my colleagues on the panel are less than sympathetic to a tartan waistcoat. But between you and me, dear prospective candidate, I sometimes feel somewhat uncomfortable about some of their more extreme obsessions when it comes to an interviewee’s dress code.

Harrison for example has a disconcerting ability to obsess about the shine on candidates’ shoes. You can tell when her obsession has been triggered: she stares at the candidate’s groin and before too long her view drops down the thighs to the kneecaps; thence down the calves, finally resting on the candidates’ ankles. And then she starts to salivate. Not conspicuously at first; just a small bead of saliva forms on her lower lip: but as the interview proceeds, the bead turns into a necklace of spit, dripping slowly down his chin. “Lickspittle” she’ll mutter to herself.

At this point, if Harrison can’t see her reflection in the candidates shoes, the necklace becomes a stream; which becomes a foaming torrent; which soon is staining her own jacket and trousers. ‘Unpolished shoes.‘ she’ll spit out between gritted teeth.

At this point the game is up for the prospective candidate.  It matters not one jot whether polished shoes is a fundamental requirement for the post being advertised.  As far as Harrison is concerned, shoes that rate less than 4.8 on the Pogson Logarithmic Scale of stellar luminosity means that the prospective candidate has the moral code of a slug and should be escorted from the premises forthwith, preferably in a large box filled with lime in order to bring about a rapid and unequivocal desiccation of the offending candidate.

However, the Interview Panel as a whole-hive-mind is able to restrain its individual members’ desires for excess and is able to continue the interview, smiling and nodding with due decorum and civility.  The candidate has clearly no chance of securing this role – Harrison will have seen to that – but at least he will have given the best account of himself possible, despite having crucified himself for his inappropriate footwear.

The Interview Panel: how not to get a job (Candidate No. 4).

Whilst the responsibility of being a panel member on the Firm’s  Interview Panel is an honour and a privilege, sometimes that responsibility weighs heavy and we have to find ways to lighten the load. A common way for Interview Panel members to relieve themselves is to set bear traps for candidates and enjoy the unwary candidate stumble, fall and finally be gobbled up by the large black bear waiting for them in the deepest recesses of aforesaid bear trap.

Bear traps take many forms and sizes and are often frequently installed within seemingly innocuous interview questions.  My favourite is the one that starts “What do other people think about you / your hair style / shoe size / communication style?

Of course, asking anyone what they think other people think about them is asking for trouble – and that is precisely the point of the question.

We set this particular trap for Candidate Number 4 this afternoon.  After coming over slightly cockily and much too big for his size 16 boots, I asked him, “What do other people think about your personality?”

The Candidate stopped short for a moment and looked around, slightly haunted, as if someone else had just entered the room.  (He was right – it was the bear). You could see him thinking:  ‘Personality?  They want to know about my personality?  They want to know what I think other people think about my personality?  Which other people do they mean? My friends?  Enemies?  The people I pissed off last week? The ones who think I can do no wrong and who love every bone in my body?

The silence was crushing as the Candidate shuffled on his seat, head held high, listening like he was lost in a forest of his own making, trying to smell danger but not succeeding.

“Other people?” he asked feebly.

Yes, other people.  Those you have worked with for example.” I smiled, beckoning him forward, a step closer to the bear trap that was slowly opening up in front of him.

It is quite a moment when you see a candidate make three diametrically opposed psychological decisions in as many minutes.  With this one you could see him mouthing to himself, I’ll tell them about that… no, I’ll tell them about this… no, I’ll tell them about the other” and before you know it he had leapt forward into the void that was the bear trap of the question which asks the interviewee to think on behalf of other people about themselves.

There are usually two responses to this bear trap.  The candidate will either bluster it out and present him or herself as something approaching Jesus – all good will to all men and women but eventually self sacrificing for the greater good: or something out of the Rough Guide for Sado-Masochists in which they present themselves as fawning, incompetent imbeciles who have always deserved a good whipping and can do nothing but harm in the eyes of a rationale, adult world.  Either way, both answers are the wrong answers and the candidate ends up suffering multiple agonies.

Candidate 4 took the latter choice and before long had turned into a gibbering idiot, foaming at the mouth in self recrimination over all the wrong things he had done throughout his life.  Thankfully, the bear at the bottom of this bear trap made quick work of him and he was escorted from the premises in the time it took to shake his hand, smile at him and say what a wonderful interview it had been.  We won’t be seeing him for some time to come.

Whilst the responsibility of being a panel member on the company’s Interview Panel is an honour and a privilege, sometimes that responsibility weighs heavy and we have to find ways to lighten the load.  The Bear Trap is our friend and our salvation during those difficult times and provides relief and sustenance in continuing the good work of the Firm, in all its glory.


The Interview Panel: how not to get a job (Candidate No. 3).

One way not to get a job is if a job doesn’t exist in the first place. If there is no job, then there is nothing the job candidate can apply for and ergo no job can be allocated. The candidate therefore comes out of the process empty handed.

This is a particularly useful tactic the Interview Panel has to employ should it find itself having to protect the Firm from a range of threatening, unspecified forces which can come over the organisational horizon at any stage: a potential loss of income, a poor PR story, or rumours on the stock market about the CEO and a local donkey sanctuary can all contribute to the need to batten down the hatches and prevent any new blood from stirring up the status quo. Something the panel is highly adept at and contributes to very effectively. Where there were once jobs, now there are no jobs.

This strategy is deployed through various tactics occasionally referred to as things such as ‘the informal chat’ or ‘let’s have a cup of coffee’ or even ‘the getting to know you meeting’.

Whatever it’s called, the aim is the same: not to give the candidate a job whilst maintaining the illusion that a job exists.

This was exemplified perfectly in the case of our third candidate of the day. Instead of formally welcoming her, the Panel adopts several forms of informal behaviour which communicated clearly that this is an informal process. We take off our ties. We slouch. We open some bottles of ale. One or two us light a cigarette and stand by the window blowing smoke out of the room apologetically. The candidate enters and to all intents and purposes it looks as if we have forgotten our scripts. We get her name wrong. We bumble. We smile, joke and apologise profusely for being so incompetent.

But this all masks a thoroughly well defined plan which reflects that in this case, we have no desire to employ this candidate because… Well just because. Just because we can. Or rather, because we don’t have to. We can do what we like because we are the Interview Panel.

The Interview Panel: how not to get a job (Candidate No. 2).

Needless to say, the Interview is only one part of the Recruitment Process. There are several other aspects to The Process, both pre- and post-Interview, which require as much meticulous preparation as The Interview itself if a candidate is to convert their hopes into assurances and banish their fears to the deeper recesses of their subconscious, never to emerge again apart from perhaps years later over a small unrelated incident: a broken biscuit, a dog howling in the middle of the night, an empty fast food wrapper tumble-weeding down the street: these are all incidents we have learnt of where previous job candidates broke down in public for no apparent reason. What bound them all was an earlier rejection at the hands of the firm’s Interview Panel: some times many years prior to the irreversible public breakdown.

So, prospective Candidate, in the words of the great business guru Graham Gooch, fail to prepare and prepare to fail.

The second candidate of the day demonstrates this fundamental error perfectly. In the training video we prepared as a result of his abortive attempt to get gainful employment with the firm (click here), you will see all the signs of an inappropriately prepared candidate. Note how he looks around the room when he enters it as if confused about his location. He should be looking straight ahead with his eyes either averted slightly downwards as if penance; or slightly above the Interview Panel’s heads, as if waiting for further instructions. He should not be scoping the room as if he is planning to enact some future subterfuge at the expense of the firm. Nor should he – as you will see he eventually does – look straight into the eyes of the Interview Panel in an attempt to gain eye contact and establish some kind of bon homie with people he has never met before and at this rate is unlikely to meet ever again.

Note too how he makes notes as members of the Interview Panel ask him questions. This is strictly verboten as earlier and greater Interview Panels were wont to advise their heir apparents. The only people who make notes are the Interview Panel and you would be well advised to take heed of this advice before stepping into the cauldron of the Interview Room.

The final miscalculation by the second candidate is actually a series of connected errors which can be traced to his posture. Note how he leans forward and backward; how he crosses and uncrosses his legs; how he turns his head from left to right as if watching a long base line rally at Wimbledon. These are the signs of a personality which are deeply flawed and are no doubt the signs of a damaged childhood, irretrievable family breakdown or other psychological trauma. Whatever the cause (and truth be told, the Interview Panel does not care much for excuses), it is clear after the fifteenth leg folding and unfolding that this candidate is completely unsuitable for the post he has bravely, some might say stupidly, put himself forward for.

It is at this point that the Interview Panel is able to look at itself, smile that secret smile we have perfected over the years, and lean forward simultaneously to press the Ejector Seat button which results in the candidate being ejected vigorously through the ceiling and out into the greater, wilder unknown of the Firm’s car park. There is no greater pleasure the Interview Panel has than to press the Ejector Seat button on an unwitting candidate.

Of course, as we are all civilised adults throughout The Process, the Candidate is utterly oblivious to having been ejected through the ceiling. We all continue to smile our smiley happy faces to each other throughout each and every single minute of his allotted time and are able to bid him farewell, keeping him seemingly safe in his perception that he has done the best interview possible, said everything he wanted to say, asked everything he wanted to ask and that he can leave the room with his fragile hopes still intact. Of course, we know different but he is not to know that.

The Interview Panel: how not to get a job (Candidate No. 1.2).

There are moments in the interview process when you have to summon up the highest levels of tact and diplomacy. A track record of working for the UN would probably provide a suitable training ground for the erstwhile Interview Panel Member but in the absence of that opportunity, those with real panel potential will have to dig deep into the depths of their souls to find the most noble, or nearest available, behaviours and feelings of well wishing towards their fellow human beings: which of course includes the next interviewee.

And in the current instance, the question of who the next interviewee would be, is up for some debate. When the door opened and the candidate stepped in, it took us a while to gather our collective composure but gather it we did and we immediately stepped up to the protocol plate and began what we like to call, in Interview Panel Land, The Process.

In Interview Panel Land, it only takes a sprightly ‘Good afternoon!’ from the candidate and we’re off, our seven collective hive minds leaping into action, enthusiastically firing questions in the general direction of the interviewee:

“How are you?”
“Have you travelled far?”
“How was the journey?”
“Would you like a glass of water?”
“Would you like to make your presentation now or later?”
“Are you comfortable?”
“And you are?”

At this point we all look at each other, our hive minds busy doing overtime. The last comment was unnecessary as by all normal standards of interview protocol, the Interview Panel Member will know exactly who is in front of them. There should be no debate at all about the identity of the poor unfortunate soul who is seated before us, compliant, hesitant, looking at us with those puppy dogs that plead, ‘please like me… If only for a second, a minute, the length of this interview… Please just like me and everything I stand for.

But on this occasion, the question is not unwarranted. Quite the contrary. The identity of the interviewee has been a source of distress for us ever since we read that a Mrs. Beecham would not be attending but that she would be sending a Mr. Arnold in her surrogate stead.

“I beg your pardon?”

We all sit up at this moment, slightly startled, a rabbits-caught-in-headlights look washing over our collective visages. It is completely unheard of for a candidate to ask us questions at this stage of The Process. At the end, when we have exhausted the candidate with a barrage of questions, supplementary questions, asides, irrelevant comments and witticisms which leave us smiling but the candidate completely baffled: certainly. In the middle, when the candidate is trying to figure out what we mean with our three part questions, inconsequential sub clauses and ‘I’ve got the answer in my head and you have to guess it‘ rhetoric: possibly. But at the start of The Process? When we still have to ascertain with the candidate which one of the seven hive minds is playing good cop, bad cop or the five other shades of dubious morality cop? Certainly not!

However, despite this flagrant disregard for The Process, the collective hive mind of the Panel soon rebalances itself and is able to adjust to the unforeseen difficulties it is presented with.

“It says here that the application is from Mrs Beecham but that she is being represented by a Mr. Arnold.”
“That’s right.”
“So you must be Mr. Arnold?”
“That’s right.”

We all breathe a sigh of relief. We’re off and away and now that we’ve established who’s in front of us we can get on with the job in hand.

We’re back into full Process mode and before you know it, thirty minutes has flown by. Shiny happy faces is the order of the day and the candidate is left feeling upbeat, full of confidence that they have strolled into this job and can start planning their annual holidays, new car and children’s private schooling.

Whether this particular candidate is going to be offered the job for which they didn’t apply for is still up for discussion (which we will undertake at the end of The Process). So until then, we are content to write copious notes in our ruled A4 notebooks, stare wistfully out at the sunshine but eventually knuckle down to the job in hand.

Before long, there is another knock at the door and this time, tea and biscuits are supplied by a lady of unknown origin pushing a trolley with a squeaky front wheel.

We all sit back, safe in the knowledge that one thing our firm has acknowledged is that we do know how to be civilised even in the most difficult of circumstances.