Interviews are stressful, artificial, weird. They’re such an inhibited dance around the facts of the case, a performance whose apparent score is the Job Description and the CV, but whose harmonies come from all the things you should and shouldn’t say. All of which is supposed to lead to the big finish: Do they like you or not? Do they think you’ll fit in, last the course, do the job?
Or maybe not a musical performance so much as a nail-biting circus routine, the blindfold knife-throwing act. I wouldn’t mind that so much. You’d be shown into the interview ring, into the spotlight. Applause, perky comments, nervous laughter, a certain amount of brave waving to the audience whilst the clowns ramp-up the tension hilariously by running round in a comedy panic throwing the confetti they’ve made from your CV out of glittery buckets. Meanwhile you’d be strapped spreadeagled to a giant revolving target. Set at a slow spin as the drums roll and the clowns can’t look and the blindfolded interviewers take it in turns to stand up from their desk and throw knives, each one making a horrifying whumping noise as they hit the board around your outstretched arms and legs, into cards that carry keywords, buzzwords, box ticks. And then a bigger, even more shocking whump when they catch you straight in the sternum with a question about where you see yourself in ten years time.
So – yes, I had an interview the other day and yes, it was pretty stressful.
I was applying for a job as a counsellor, with specialist training in CBT. It’s a popular post, having a year’s post-grad training attached, something that would cost you a small fortune to do independently. On paper (and in my head) I was a good match. I have an interest in people (which sounds creepy put like that; what I mean is, I like hearing their stories, how they got where they are, how they live, how they get by), and I have fourteen years experience working in primary healthcare, firstly as an EMT in the ambulance service, lately as an Assistant Practitioner with a hospital avoidance team. Mental health issues of one kind or another have been a significant part of my day-to-day experience, so it’s not simply a theoretical thing for me. I know how these things present in the community, how they play out.
I knew the follow-up questions would be harder to answer though. For example – why, in my ten years on the ambulance, did I not train-up to be a paramedic?
The truth? When I went through the selection procedure, I fluffed one of the answers in the CPR section, got rejected, applied again, got halfway through, and then ducked-out. The whole selection procedure was maddeningly slow, tortuous in a vaguely political way that was starting to make me feel like I was caught in a story by Kafka or Dan Brown at least – the whole scratchy feel of it exacerbated by working nights. I started to have serious doubts about my future in the ambulance service. Retraining as a paramedic would give me extra skills, it was true, but the job would essentially be the same, with the same gruelling working patterns, the same long handovers at the hospital. From the beginning of my service I’d been writing an ambulance blog. Suddenly I was picking up readers. I’d written a book based on the blog and it was selling well on Amazon. I thought: If I died tomorrow, what would I most regret? Not being a paramedic? Or not being a writer? So I decided to treat work simply as a means of supporting the writing. A few years later I thought I’d take a lateral step into a community health role, because the hours were better.
None of this is easy to talk about in an interview, though. There’s no room to say that the chances of me making any money at all from writing are so small, I will probably always need to have a day job. That being the case, I’d rather have a day job that was interesting and socially useful, rather than one that doesn’t mean anything, and saps my spirit, because of course there’s nothing worse than simply turning up to work solely for the cheque.
So I emphasised the physical toll of night work, skated over my failure to retrain as a paramedic, and diplomatically massaged the facts of my experience to make them look as much of a shoe-in for the job as possible.
All things considered, I think I’d rather be strapped to a target.