Tell me about a time when you underperformed…..

1312 hours….. The Freak Box….

As you’d expect the train is empty…. It’s the middle of the day….

I’ve been up since 0642 hours.  I’ve been pacing around like an expectant father desperately trying to recall what you have to do in an interview…That’s right…. an interview.  Not the normal interviews I’m used to where big lumpy Oaf’s refuse to say anything but an interview where I am under the microscope… a job is at stake…a good job..and I want it…

I’m rarely glad to be on a train but today is different as I’ve been in a right mess all morning…I’ve felt sick with worry. For a man with a massive mouth I lack a certain focused confidence and today is my nightmare..  I have to sell myself.

I look in the mirror and remember the words of a trusted associate who suggested the Gareth Cheeseman approach where, when under pressure, he shouts ‘YOU’RE A TIGER!!’ into the mirror at himself before knocking one out for a treat….

…I’m not going to do that….I’m too nervous… instead I sit down and watch ‘Boardwalk Empire’ in my pants as I’m home alone.  I’m a professional…I’ve locked the door…I’ve closed the blinds… I cannot be caught….

The joy of Al Capone killing someone with a statue of the Empire State Building quickly subsides and I’m back in full panic mode where my only friend is the toilet…. It’s pathetic… I’m in my mid 40’s and I’ve turned into a frightened child. I revise what I think I should know but at the back of my head are the words of my father who recently told me..

‘I didn’t bother about your education as it was clear early on that you weren’t up to much’…

..inspiring stuff eh?   Think about that for a minute. Who wants to hear that?  Who deserves that?…maybe someone, somewhere, some scumbag perhaps but not me.

I realise I cant rely on my education to dig me out and so I focus on my bolshiness which may win the day. I manage to regain some semblance of control, I get ready, calm down and leave during a thunderstorm which seems like a sign not to go… alas Canary Wharf awaits..

The journey is under an hour. Revision at this stage is futile so I resign myself to the fact that the CV, the experience and my mouth are the only options…. I start to sweat.  My mouth can be the problem.  My mouth has always been the problem…my mouth will be the problem…

I get to the Wharf via the DLR. It’s magnificent, the future of train travel. It’s completely empty, with no driver which coincidently is weirdly reminiscent of the inside of my head at this moment in time.

I’m a bit early so I calm myself by walking around the shops in the vicinity. This proves to be another bad idea.  There is no place for people like me in any of these shops.  I don’t have the body or the feet for such sharp apparel.  I’m built for comfort not speed.  If I were a vegetable I’d be a turnip…dense, misshapen and earthy… these garments are made for the Asparagus people… sharp, thin, long and tasty.  I’m built for harsh winters not Zinfandel summers and so I apologetically slope out….

My best option is to stand still and observes the punters milling about. I need to relax and perhaps rip the piss out of the mob.  If that was the job I’d be a shoe-in. I’ve got 27 minutes to kill before I am killed in front two people I don’t know after being slowly dissected. I’m not used to this concept but I’ll go with it as it would be unprofessional to walk away at this point.

I decide to position myself by a set of down escalators and watch….

An initial assessment reveals fitted shirts and pointy shoes to be the order of the day. This was expected but I’m shocked at the number of people in this get up given the fact that it’s absolutely pissing down and windy.  I’m suited and booted with additional rain coat…. Obviously I’m sweating like a pregnant nun but I’m expected to look the part for the impending arsehole-ripping I’m about to get… its all about the confidence right?

I look around and see fantastically expensive sandwich shops with queues out the doors. Everyone is involved in the Avocado and crispy bacon on Rye bread with mayo and Swiss cheese mega wrap game and they are happy to let you know it by carrying it about in a bespoke bag made by a cottage industry free trade peasant from a third world country.  I’m starving but just know that if I buy something it will explode all over me and destroy my pristineness and that’s all I’ve got at the minute.

I toy with going to a bar to have a stiff drink…’Dutch Courage’ as it were. The problem with that is that the only odourless drink I can think of is Vodka and my luck would dictate that at the point of ordering I’d be spotted by any imminent interviewer and would be perceived as a pisshead.  It’s too risky so I give it a miss and anyway that’s a slippery slope even this plastic paddy refuses to head down

I continue to stand and watch…. The clock ticks slowly…. 10 minutes before I need to arrive at an early enough time to seem professional  and up for it…. I feel sick…. It’s been 12 years since my last interview to this level with a future employer and it’s clear to me that experience in my job means fuck all…

I scan the crowd and note the preening and the posturing….Is this really me? The Wharf?

It couldn’t be further removed from my life of employment and in particular my current job.  We have Windows XP,  a canteen that sells ‘Buck Rabbit’ and a sign on the gents toilet that says ‘The Shitter’s full’… It’s gritty, harsh and hilarious for a reason whereas this is sparkly, sterile and sleek for show…

The clock ticks on and I decide the time has come…. There is no turning back… I get into character and head to the place of sacrifice where I announce myself to the concierge, or ‘bloke at the counter’ as I would normal refer to him as. Unbelievably he’s never heard of me and so I’m given a visitors pass and am directed to ‘waiting area A’ where I sit and wait to be ‘collected’.

…2 minutes click by….. there’s marble everywhere…. marble and glass and a sweeping staircase.  I’ve been here before in my current job and so at least I’m familiar with my surroundings.

Two me approach me.. one older than the other.  The younger one walks off on his own to prepare the altar and the older one introduces himself to me by calling me by my full Christian name… only my mother does this.  He’s not my mother.

We head up the stairs and bizarrely I spot someone I know who works there in a boardroom we pass….I didn’t wave or bang on the window but feel the need to mention it as I’m getting the hint from his lack of warmth that I’m struggling to impress him in the four sentences we’ve shared….I need a chink of light in the gloom..

We get to the chamber and I’m introduced to torturer number two…. it’s a flaccid, damp, no eye contact handshake…. the worst kind possible but he seems like a nice enough human.  I’m looking for positives and I see it in the form of a bottle of sparkling water…. the bottle has a lovely stopper at the top. As you can tell I have a problem with focus…

I take a deep breath…. sit down….pour a glass of water… and face up to the onslaught… I am Leonidas before the Persians refusing to kneel….

“..Tell me about a specific time when…….”

…and there it is…. the worst possible question to ask me at any time let alone crammed into a room with two blokes who need entertainment….I could be finished before I’ve uttered a syllable….I’m on the rack…

I’m in there an hour and I’ve answered most questions with what I believe to be feeble responses to multi layered, complex,  competency based questions.  By the end I’m feeling fairly dejected and almost apologise for the performance which as Jen tells me later would have been a mistake as I don’t know how bad the other candidates may have been.  She’s the master of turning a negative into a positive…

I leave the chamber and receive the same limp handshakes… there’s no joy here…. I head for the DLR and I don’t look back I’m not keen on the idea of seeing two strangers watch me cross the road with shaking heads and pity.

I scurry away from The Wharf’s slickness to the grit and grime I’m used to….I’m happier in the dirt for now because as you now know I’m not really up to much…..

…we’ll see Pater…..we’ll see….


2 thoughts on “Tell me about a time when you underperformed…..

  1. Your Old Chum says:

    I was only 21. It was a few months since I’d graduated and although I had a 6 month position with a publisher in Docklands I needed something permanent. I wanted to work in engineering not publishing or advertising sales. So this was really important to me.

    I’d travelled down on the train from London to Taunton and then by taxi to the North Somerset Coast.

    The HR manager was a large Glaswegian with hands the size of dinner plates and a handshake that could form diamonds from lumps of charcoal. We exchanged cordialities, it was going well I thought and I started to relax.

    Then he hit me with it: “I can see from your academic record that you’re no’ a genius”.

    Bang! Instant deflation. What had been the point of the four hour trek to this grey, coastal backwater? It wasn’t as if I could counter with details of my extensive, post-education experience, I had none.

    I sat there in the lull in the conversation wondering if I should simply apologise for having wasted his time and then slink back to London when, having judged that his words had had the desired effect he hit me with the punchline: “but that’s okay son, we’re no’ looking for geniuses”.

    It can be a horrible process. Often these things are done to throw people off guard in order to see what they’re really like when diverted from the script that they’ve been rehearsing in their minds in the days leading up to the interview.

    I’ve applied for positions in the past that I thought I was supremely qualified for but didn’t even receive a letter acknowledging my application. You can’t dwell on it. Just learn from the experience and try the next thing.

    Liked by 1 person

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