Competency Based Tomfoolery – Misdirection of an Interviewer
Editor’s note: This week Alex tells us about his first job interview in some time; and I love the interview question he suggests .
This week I’ve had an actual job interview. I know – it is madness; I’ve only had to wait around two months to officially get one. And to be honest I’m pulling my hair out, and not just because it’s cheaper than getting a haircut. In this country there is so much pressure on the applicant to do their utter best without fail, and it’s manifested through such devious techniques carried out by the employer and/or interviewer. There are competency based questions, along with supposed scenarios thought up that mean you as a stressed out, anxious and struggling jobless persons are expected to answer back with flair and decisiveness. I can get the flair down, or at least tell bad jokes, but as for complete and utter decisiveness and displaying a bullet-proof personality I think I’ll leave that to the ‘Uber confident’ applicants, the sort of person that elbows me out of the way at a bar because they are quite obviously vastly important to everyone else in the room.
But enough of my dramatisations. My point is more a straightforward one – whatever happened to the good old ‘first come first served’ approach. I’m not saying employers should offer jobs to whoever falls awkwardly into the interview room first, but shouldn’t eagerness, perhaps not desperation, be the most attractive trait for the interviewer? Or maybe it is indeed the case that if I were to describe my best way of surviving on a desert island with only five items of my choice (this is genuine probing question asked) I would tick all the boxes, and therefore would be also very handy in a crisis situation. Who knows, yet all I can think in retrospect of similar questions is
“Who are you to psycho-analyse my personality, when all I want to do is earn a basic rate at regular hours.”
I suppose I should tell you what the interview was for, even though the job itself wasn’t the issue I had on that day. It was for a contact centre for referencing and chasing up orders that have been lost or failed in delivery, mostly via the well known websites (Amazon etc). There are no sales involved, so I’m repeatedly told (hey, that rhymes) and that is something I’m reluctant over in my job search – the idea of pushing sales over the phone. And all the while the receptionist and the managers were polite, if not slightly hurried and straight-faced, it was like entering into a slaughterhouse, but one to harvest people’s emotive well-being rather than for meat (at least not mine). You see, I suffer from problems with anxiety, and crowded places can completely neutralise me if not make me feel ill, and so after going through the gauntlet of travelling to and around the city centre I wasn’t really in the mood to be asked things like “Tell us a time when you resolved a difficult situation without any help”.
I did tell them, but a distorted version of a vague memory from a previous working day that had gone manic. The memory in hindsight is blurred, and I would have chosen a better one to talk about but I didn’t want to create awkward silence or begin to stutter. What I described then was a time when the power went down in my old shop but the area manager at the time charmingly insisted over the phone that I continue to trade, which without lights was a health and safety nightmare and without tills every sale took a long time. But I got through it, attending to everyone from my staff to bewildered customers as if I was Jesus Christ myself… And I most certainly am not.
So the interview was difficult, as is to be expected. I’m not saying it went badly, in fact I charmed them like they’ve never been charmed, I hope. I wasn’t arrogant and I wasn’t defeatist, but the fact that I was on edge before I already got to the building, and then after the pleasantries I was put on-the-spot to a degree I just felt like I could have done better, even though there is no way of knowing what wacky or wayward questions they were going to ask. I was even asked what my favourite cuisine was, which seemed informal and on a personal level but was all a part of the interview. I said Italian. Most people probably would say Italian. Does that mean I won’t get the job because that answer is ‘too normal’, or that I will get the job on the basis that the answer I gave at least was not “Pie ‘n’ Chips down the local pub”?
I’m having a hard time working it all out. I imagine all the other applicants had a similar perilous afternoon. I’d just like employers to be equally as honest by asking me about me, not asking trick questions to find out the ‘inner me’. You’d think it was a marriage agency looking for ideal clients, not a contact centre looking for people to answer the phone.
Finally, here’s my idea for a competency based question. A person’s answer would so decide on their own personal and financial future. It goes:
“If you were stuck up a tree but didn’t have any balloons and the ground beneath you was floating, what time would it be in Tibet?”
Answer: Quarter passed ‘dunno’.