Must try harder

Today, I have tanked, ploughed, crashed and burned. As the weeks pass and the interview count increases, it was only a matter of time before I turned in an interview performance that was less than sparkling and today was that day. This morning, after an solid hour of wide ranging questions from a formal interview panel of three, I was asked to simply name the case management software deployed in my last operation. Almost before the question was even completed, I realised I’d blanked and what’s more, as I looked from one patiently waiting face to another, I knew that nothing would bring it to mind.
In my career, I have given boardroom presentations, handled difficult negotiations and delivered training to hundreds of people. In these situations, I have faced unexpected questions, carefully considered challenges and requests for clarification and, by knowing my material backwards and being able to think on my feet, have crafted the appropriate response and replied accordingly. Knowing this, you might have some idea of how surprised I was to find my mind vacant and incapable of a coherent response. Whilst one half of my brain was still processing the novelty of the situation, the other was acutely aware that questions regarding resource management and budgeting were coming thick and fast and I was not doing a good job of answering them. I spent the second hour of the interview fighting a rearguard action to make up lost ground, trying to reclaim a little of my professional pride and salvage a few scraps of dignity along the way. The panel members were cordial and polite to a fault but I sensed that I’d had my chance and blown it.
I conspired to do all this during the first of two back-to-back interviews, so my earlier fumblings were fresh in my mind as I walked to the second. As this second meeting took the form of an informal ‘get to know you’ lunch in a bijou Wellington bistro with a key player from one of the national banks, how could anything go wrong? My cheeks, still burning from the disconcerting loss of memory and the subsequent scramble to re-establish credibility in the previous interview, flushed again as my lunch partner opened by saying how impressed he’d been by my CV. This had been forwarded by his colleague, whom I’d met with a week or so ago in Auckland and, after running a few checks with the recruiters, the chap decided that he’d like to meet to see if I’d ‘fit’ his organisation. We slipped into a very pleasant chat, he asking the questions and I, composure regained and confidence restored, providing the answers until our bijou food arrived.
Over quesadillas and braised kidneys, I was pleased to learn that we shared common opinions on a fair number of issues and, with my earlier troubles receding, I relaxed into the moment. Sadly, I relaxed a little too much and, whilst listening intently to my lunch companion, a momentary pause of my right hand changed the delicate balance of a kidney on my fork, sending the morsel into the rich sauce below. Ploop! Like blood spattering a condo wall in an episode of ‘CSI Miami’, the sauce rose to prescribe a perfect arc across my crisp white shirt. Idly noting that the spray had strangely missed my tie altogether, I pulled the kind of ‘You wouldn’t believe me if I told you’ face that Stan Laurel used to give Oliver Hardy, dabbed myself with a napkin and commenced my second face-saving campaign of the day. To be fair, we both laughed and the conversation continued as before, with no further mention of the incident.

I walked back to the car, dreading the third interview of the day, namely the debrief with She Who Must Be Obeyed. After explaining that she might want to keep the champagne on ice a while longer, we fell into a deflated silence on the drive home. As we headed north, I found myself wondering how my respective interviewers would remember this day. Would the panel I met earlier always reflect on ‘that nicely presented guy’ who completely blanked when asked which software package his team used? Would the key player from the bank decline to pursue matters further but be quietly grateful for the ‘I once interviewed this Pom…’ story he can tell around the campfire at next year’s team building weekend?

Only time will tell.

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