I knew he was going to call my name way more than I knew the last seven interviewers were going to call my name.
“Do we have a… Benedict?”
And in the mental fuzz of walking across the room to meet his handshake wondering what everyone is thinking I do not have enough space in my head to capture his name. He goes to shake my hand very high at about chest level and I wonder if this isn’t the new way of shaking hands. Keep the grip firm, not too firm, and don’t hold the hand for too long. I never get the name and so we’ll call him Neil.
Neil is a young man, twenty-five, with a kind inquisitive face and he wears his suit well. He asks how I am and I subdue flashbacks of the morning’s trouble-in-the-toilet and the impression that I have been soaked in boredom to lie that I am ‘fine, thanks’. He is fine too. On the walk to the lift we pick up the nondescript girl with the portfolio case who hadn’t left at all. Her name is Angelica.
Neil’s go-to conversational gambit is to ask you about your name. He will interview some 50 people today and I imagine by the end of his career he will have an encyclopedic knowledge of names and will be a terrible bore.
He says that Angelica’s name sounds Russian. She tells him that she is from Poland. Out of the lift, through a cardboard corridor and into Neil’s office-for-the-day. He sits underneath a gigantic clock that’s telling the wrong time and invites us to fill the two chairs infront of him. A group interview.
‘So nothing too scary today, just a case of putting faces to names. We’re interviewing about 100 people for the graduate position today and..’.
‘This is for a graduate position?’
‘I got told on the phone that it was for a Film & Computer Game Enthusiast’
‘Well I’m interviewing for the graduate position, so if you want to step outside Benedict’
‘But, no, I’ve got a degree’
‘So if you’re happy I’ll continue interviewing for the graduate position’
‘Very good, go ahead’
‘So you’ve looked at the website and you know what the position is about – Angelica – what attracted you to the position?’
‘I’m interested in accountancy and think that I could progress in my career here, I want to have my own business in five years*’
‘What business?’ I ask excitedly, trying to make the whole thing more conversational and less weird.
‘An accountancy business’
‘Oh, that’s good’
‘And you Benedict?’ Neil asks me
‘I’m going to level with you here Neil, I don’t really know what the position is’
‘You didn’t look at the website?’
‘I did not’
Neil moves mercifully onto our employment history and I tell Neil basically what is in the CV as he rilfes past my Sharpie penned covering letter into the meat of the document stifling confusion rather marvellously (Neil is scrupulously and somehow kindly professional throughout). Angelica tells him about her role at John Lewis and manages to get in that she uses Microsoft office all of the time and I am jealous that she thought of this and start feeling competitive about the whole thing. Neil then puts on this dreamy face and asks ‘was there ever a person by the name of Evans’ like a medium trying to fish your dead aunt (ONO) from the ether.
‘Yes! A Paul Evans!’
‘I know his brother’ Says Neil and whether he knows him or not Angelica is astonished and says ‘that is useful’ and while I’m turning over what useful could mean in this context (did Angelica just get the job? Does that mean I didn’t get the job?) Neil turns to university degrees
Angelica has predictably done an accountancy degree and I begin to suspect that the position must have something to do with accountancy. Neil picks up my CV and kind of leafs through it theatrically and inscrutably and just fires away with the same question about the degree.
‘And how did you find it?’ He’s on the education page of the CV and I sort of lean over and point at the entry. ‘Pointless?’
‘Pointless’ I concur more smugly that I’d intended.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Without point.’ ibid
The three dot silence hangs so heavy that I push myself into feeding him some horseshit about Philosophy teaching you ‘how to think’ but that it isn’t all that vocational and I’ve spent most of my salaried career being told ‘don’t be clever’. Neil then does a nice thing and talks about reading Descartes as part of his extracurricular drive to fill his head with knowledge while his head is at its most receptive. ‘Something in common!’ I think, and so talk about Descartes by the fireside with his piece of wax subtracting all of the qualities of the wax until he has got to the very stuff of wax itself and about how he has to call in God to clean up the mind/body mess he’s got himself in as a kind of lame deus ex machina (I actually say deus ex machina aloud in the interview and reader it is not the first time).
‘I haven’t read all of Shakespeare’, he says ruefully, ‘and only a bit of Plato and Socrates’ and so I relate how fun Plato is, saying something like ‘you’ve got Socrates, Telemachus, a load of wine and some good looking boys in the corner- you’re having a great time!’.
A good joke or story can really make the difference in an interview.
After a few more questions where I feel like I might be closing the gap with Angelica, Neil asks us about what Key Skills we will be bringing along to the role. Angelica is bringing organisation and drive. Two is a good number, just makes the plural, isn’t too showy – Angelica knows her stuff. I’m bringing honesty to the table but also – and I’m not going to pretend this isn’t preplanned – I look Neil clairvoyantly in the eye and say slowly
‘but I think I would be very good at it’
disregarding entirely that I’ve already admitted that I don’t know what it is.
‘Right, he says turning to Angelica, would you be interested in coming back for a second interview?’
‘And the same question to you Benedict.’
‘Yes, Neil, I think I would.’
*Why always five years?
On to Nine?