The Job Interview

©2013 Nim Gholkar All Rights Reserved

Job interviews strike terror in the hearts of the fearless and the meek alike. There is something about sitting in a confined environment, facing a stern looking interviewer who unleashes an avalanche of tricky questions that simply turns your brain into jelly, leaving you gasping for the right answer. I have a strong suspicion that if this same interaction was carried out in a cozy coffee shop over steaming cups of chai latte, the answers would make themselves known to the hapless interviewee a lot more easily. During the seventeen and half years that I have lived in Australia, I have experienced some truly memorable interviews.

One such occasion was in early 1997. It was a group interview, where a bunch of nervous potential recruits for a health insurance company were to undergo a ‘question and answer’ session. True to my nature, I was at the train station bright and early on the morning of the interview. My make-up was intact, my grey suit beautifully ironed and my hair neatly groomed. I was ready to ‘wow’ the interviewers, however terrifying they might turn out to be, with my professional approach. Pleased as punch with all my efforts, I waited smugly for the train to arrive. As it pulled into the station at the exact scheduled time, I glanced at my watch. Excellent. At this rate, I would arrive in the City with an entire half hour to spare. I would walk leisurely to the address, maybe grab a coffee from one of the quaint coffee shops that abound in the CBD, quickly powder my nose etc etc before walking serenely into the interview room. It was all set out beautifully in my mind’s eye.

The train chugged slowly out of the station and gathered speed. I looked out the window as the suburbs flew past in a blur of autumn shades and reflected on the book I had read the night before. ‘101 techniques for the Perfect Interview’ or something to that effect. I was thrilled with myself for having read such an exhaustive, detailed book. I mean, surely out of those 101 techniques, I would be able to remember at least a few to help me breeze through the group interview. Just then, all my wild thoughts tumbled into one terrified realisation. The train had come to a halt, and we were nowhere close to the City. I stared wild eyed out the window. What on earth had happened? Why had the train stopped? I looked around in agitation, but none of my fellow passengers seemed perturbed. ‘Track work’ said an old lady seated next to me with a resigned smile. ‘It has been going on for a week. We will be stuck here for half an hour.’ she mumbled and then added ‘AT LEAST’ with a smug, know-it-all, ‘been-there-done-that’ nod. HALF AN HOUR ????? This was meant to be the perfect interview, with me arriving well in advance, walking sedately without a care in the world, and dazzling the crowd with my professionalism and punctuality. HOW DARE THE TRAIN STOP FOR TRACK WORK ??? Of course, I didn’t actually say any of this, but my mind was in overdrive, leaping from one panicked thought to another.

Suffice to say, the train finally pulled sluggishly into Central station on the dot of 10 am, exactly when my interview was scheduled to begin. I leaped out of the train with a fluidity that would have put Spiderman to shame. My tottering heels were proving to be a nightmare. Fashion be damned! I had to get there in the next 10 seconds. Not easy, considering the offices were located a 4 minute walk from the station. I grabbed my pointy-toed shoes, and ran barefoot like a mad woman, dodging startled pedestrians who were languidly sipping the hot coffee I had so longed to have. The leather briefcase which contained neatly printed copies of my resume flapped noisily against me as I ran pell-mell, apologising profusely and repeatedly to all and sundry. Everyone moved aside to let the crazy woman through. I ran and ran and ran. And ran. At exact seven minutes past ten, I flew through the sliding doors of the office building and into the silent lift that began carrying me up to the tenth floor. I was sweating, my hair was plastered to my face, my mascara was running and I had tears in my eyes from all the effort of running. The perfectly groomed, corporate looking men and women next to me in the lift stared as though they had a Martian in their midst. ‘Late for an interview’ I mouthed silently, while hastily putting my shoes back on. They nodded carefully before looking away. I could tell what they were thinking. Best to leave the mad woman alone.

At last, at last……the lift door opened and I jumped out. Another bout of running began after the bewildered receptionist pointed a shaky finger to a door somewhere in a far corner. I finally arrived with a screech of my heels, opened the door and stood panting, my lovely hair-do now a perfect bird’s nest. Twelve pairs of eyes turned to look at me. One pair also had pertly arched eyebrows above them, and I knew I was looking at the dreaded interviewer.

Dear Reader, it is quite beyond me to describe what happened next. I mumbled a lame sounding apology about the train having stalled. The interviewer stared at me in horror and pointed me to my chair. I sank gratefully into the seat and tried to avoid the sympathetic glances of my fellow interviewees. Suffice to say I did not remember even one of the 101 brilliant techniques for the perfect interview. When it was my turn, I spoke straight from the heart. I was not the best dressed, I was not the most punctual, I was certainly not the most poised. I think somewhere during my long interview, something I might have said touched a chord in the interviewer’s heart. She might have remembered a long forgotten time, when she herself had been young and foolish and frightened. When she herself might have arrived at a desperately important interview all frazzled and flustered and lost. One is young only once, after all. But the memories remain forever.

Two days later, her quiet voice spoke into the phone. The words held the gentlest hint of a smile. ‘When can you start?’

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