Jane Bradley: Perils of mucking up a job interview

Getting a personal letter from the head man himself would soften the blow of an unsuccessful job interview somewhat.
Job hunting and the interview process can be nerve wracking and disheartening. Picture: TSPLJob hunting and the interview process can be nerve wracking and disheartening. Picture: TSPL
Job hunting and the interview process can be nerve wracking and disheartening. Picture: TSPL

Richard Branson’s blog this week recalled how he used to send missives to every unsuccessful interviewee for a job at his airline, Virgin Atlantic. “Many thanks for showing interest in joining Virgin and for finding time to come to an interview,” he would write. “I know how difficult that could have been for you.”

He has, he says, reinstated the practice, feeling it is only courtesy to be polite to unsuccessful applicants. He’s right – because job hunting is disheartening. It is disheartening if you don’t get an interview and possibly even more disheartening if you do, then are pipped to the post by someone with just that tiny bit more experience; charm or ability to bullshit.

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What makes it worse is if the company doesn’t even bother to let you know you’ve not been chosen; or refuses feedback on your performance.

On the other hand, if prospective employees expect human treatment from companies, they need to show would-be employers the same courtesy. Recruiters say that in a typical interview day, one person out of a shortlist of five will often not even bother to turn up.

Restaurants seem to be particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of unreliable prospective staff. Chef Mark Greenaway tells me he struggles to get staff to even walk through the door of his restaurants – despite his Edinburgh establishments’ stellar reputations. He invites candidates for interviews, to find many do not bother to turn up. One frustrating recruitment drive eventually resulted in offering a chef a trial, only for him to fail to appear on his first day. He says many colleagues in the high-end restaurant sector have the same problem.

Personally, I’m not great at real job interviews. In my defence, it’s mainly because I’ve never really had any – most jobs in journalism don’t really work like that. In this industry, the best way to gain employment is to somehow worm your way into a newsroom, work hard, show competence and eventually, if you’re lucky, a contract might turn up – possibly without anyone asking you if you actually want a job. Alternatively, an editor might read your work for a while and then invite you for a clandestine drink in a dingy pub around the corner to see if he can poach you from his rival.

On the only occasion when I have ever applied for a normal job, I lost it at the first question, when my disdain for the whole experience was immediately evident. The question was put very sweetly by the interviewer, which threw me from the start. I was out of my comfort zone.

“Now Jane, lovely to meet you. Could you possibly give me an example of a time when you had to work to a deadline? Don’t worry if not, there are plenty of other questions to come.”

I gawped. My mouth opened and then closed like a goldfish. “A deadline? You do know I work for a daily newspaper, don’t you?” popped out before I had a chance to stop it. I suppose at least that was all I actually said.

What my brain (and probably quite evidently my face) was thinking was: “You absolute cretin. You have a chance to ask me a maximum of about ten questions over the next half hour to ascertain my skills for a job which I’m probably only partially qualified for. So you decide to waste one of those precious questions on asking me if I can do something which it is quite evident from my CV that I have done every single day of my working life, rather than quizzing me on the aspects of the position which I might not be as obviously well suited for? Idiot.”

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Of course, some years older and wiser, I realise my reaction was perhaps out of order. The interviewer was only doing 
her job.

If I had to do it again, I would be prepared for such eventualities, smile sweetly and answer the question in a sensible and considered manner. Probably.

Because people remember these things. Each of those would-be chefs who didn’t bother to turn up will have a big black mark next to his or her name. And I wouldn’t dare hope to be given a job at the “give an example of a time when …”
place any time in the next century.