A couple of years ago, someone I loved told me I wasn’t sharp. Intellectually sharp, that is. When I took umbrage at this he explained that he was by no means inferring I wasn’t smart, simply that unlike others, I lacked the ability to think quickly and articulate myself smoothly when put on the spot. I had to concede this. Unlike those confident and quick-witted folk, I need time to ruminate, to allow questions to slosh about in my head until I arrive at an appropriately deliberated response. And that response generally needs to take a written form as speech requires a certain self-assurance which I sadly do not – no matter how much I try – possess.
Never has this deficiency manifested itself more potently than in an interview I had the unfortunate business of undertaking this week. Despite believing my interview skills had in fact improved in recent years (although with my generic skills set and the current economic climate I rarely get the opportunity to practice), my latest performance confirms that I have indeed regressed.
Bloody, squirmy, writhing-on-the-hospital-floor, wailing foetus type regression.
Allow me to illuminate.
It’s Westminster. It’s only 15:40 but it’s dark outside. This brings a certain calm upon me; somehow being interviewed at night feels less intimidating than during the day. I’m suitably early and therefore have plenty of time to read through my notes. I’m feeling uncharacteristically calm. Not zen calm; there’s still a level of clammy perspiration penetrating the outer fibres of my clothing and my hands feel like those belonging to a cadaver. But calm enough by my standards.
In the reception of Portcullis, I wait and wait. My interview is supposedly at 16:00 but it is now 16:10. A sunny-faced redhead walks towards me and introduces herself, declaring that they are running completely behind schedule. Another half an hour at least, she says. So sorry. And takes another candidate to the office above.
Half an hour or so passes and I see the other candidate, Samantha, come down the stairs. She looks as if she’s been hit by a bus. Ha! I think, victory is MINE.
Now, if I could, I would retell the details of the interview. Unfortunately, trauma has since blocked my brain. I do however have in my mental possession, one or two excruciatingly lucid slivers to recount. So, how to mangle an excellent opportunity in epic proportions:
MP: “I write for a local publication called Asian Voice. If I was asked to write an article tonight, what is an issue I might focus on?”
ME: “Right. Well. Um. Aah….”*
I search the deep recesses of my mind, mentally scanning the pages of The Guardian I read that morning. I have nothing.
Come on bitch! Think of something! Something! SOMETHING! ANYTHING! How can YOU not know anything about pertinent issues in the Asian community?! Pull something out of your arse, however tenuous, I hear part of my brain implore.
But instead of information, all I can visualise is a mini version of myself, wandering the damp, pink empty caverns of my squiggly brain like some sort of macabre labyrinth.
What feels like an age of uncomfortable, humiliating spluttering passes and as the mini Me attempts to find some puny nugget to grasp onto and hold aloft in triumph, the iron grill comes crashing down inside my head, sealing away all possibility of intelligent, spontaneous thought. I am trapped in the pink emptiness with no way to move forward and no escape.
I am in hell.
MP: “Okay. What do you know about the Asian community?”
Please make the ceiling cave in and lightening strike me dead.
Please make the floor crack open and a giant worm rise up from the underworld and swallow me whole. I don’t care if it hurts. I don’t care if the worm digests me slowly and painfully. Anything would be an improvement on the agony I’m experiencing R I G H T
N O W
in this plush London office.
MP: “I can see you have the answers there in your head. I’m trying to put you under pressure to see how you think on your feet.”
Clearly, I don’t think. That’s the problem.
In a vain attempt to put me at ease, the MP asks me what my favourite swear word is. Rabbits, I eventually reply. Why ‘Rabbits’? she asks. Because I have a young child and I don’t want her to learn the word ‘cunt’ from me, I respond.
Hey, SHE asked!
Suffice to say the interview didn’t get much better. I had fallen down a hole and landed at the bottom in a battered, bloody heap from the outset and there was no crawling out of it, no matter how many self-deprecating jokes I made or how much they laughed. I had proved myself not only incompetent in front of one of the most intimidatingly competent women I have ever encountered, but I had also demonstrated what a truly slimy worm I had the potential to be. Taking pity on me in my overwhelming verbal ineptitude, the MP more or less held my hand throughout the entire process, feeding me crumbs like a baby in the hopes I might articulate some semblance of a decent response.
But it was not to be.
Like Samantha before me, I left Westminster looking like someone had drained the blood out of my body and filled it with embalming fluid, though somehow I think she fared better than I. I felt waxy and strange and wanted to cry but was too bewildered to do so. Never in the history of the world could an interview have gone so badly. Clearly I am not ready to compete with others for jobs in such a context. My intellectual armoury remains poorly stocked and covered in dust and ancient cobwebs. And my confidence lurks somewhere deep inside the S-bend of a decrepit public lavatory.
The most distressing thing of all however is that one would think, at my age and with all those vast piles of dollars pumped into my education, I would be able to at least string together a coherent sentence; to tweeze out a topic or two to expand upon in order to put my interviewing panel at ease and assure them they haven’t made a gross error in judgement in inviting me to sit before them. But no.
Perhaps I should spend more time sharpening my brain, practicing my verbal parrying with the Doctor instead of curling up into a ball at the first sign of scrutiny. Or perhaps follow the news and fill my head with information instead of playing bejewelled, memorising dialogue from bad films and spending hours looking at my pores in the bathroom mirror.
*The time indicated in the dialogue is not reflective of actual time. Actual time was far longer and far more painful. For everyone concerned.