‘Oooh Fruit’ and Other Innappropriate Utterances During a Panel Interview

Last Monday, I had an interview. It wasn’t a disaster but it didn’t go particularly well, either. I can’t say I was surprised on receiving the form rejection email. Although I was disappointed, having enjoyed being on campus and in a university library, again. But I’ll keep trying.

At first, all went well. There were two tests to begin. Both were a doddle and the lady explaining them was very nice. We had a good chat and she seemed to like me. Then there came the dreaded panel interview.

Having interviewed for a similar job previously, I was expecting a panel interview, no matter how inappropriate it might seem for such a lowly position. This meant I wasn’t put off, as I had been the last time, on entering a room and finding two large tables separating me from the three interviewers, all watching me with an air of judgemental authority. In an attempt to break the ice and try to engage with the interviewers on a less formal, more personal/friendly manner (and also, probably, due to nerves) on seeing a lovely spread of fruit, I made the comment, ‘Oooh fruit.’ This did not go down well. Their reply was a cold silence, whilst eyeing me as though they thought I was a crazy person and a potential threat to their safety. Perhaps the fruit was for their mouths only and they were worried I would take some. Perhaps commenting on the fruit just made me come off as a bit of a weirdo. Note to self: you’re not trying to make friends with your interviewer(s), you’re trying to impress them with your professionalism and vast array of skills and experience – commenting on fruit is not a good move.

I have to admit, the failed fruit comment threw me a bit. Their response made me nervous. I told myself to relax, that they were people, just like me, and nothing to be scared of/intimidated by. They were just going to ask me some questions. We were going to have a chat. That was all. Thing is, though, there was a definite anti-chat feel to the whole thing. And I’m sure the icy atmosphere had nothing to do with the over-enthusiastic air conditioning. They said they were having problems with it but who knows – maybe it was just to add to the effect.

The formal tone continued right through the interview, despite my efforts to change this, and it’s not easy to engage with someone who is scribbling notes about you with their head down. My slightly funny anecdote that I thought of on-the-spot went down fairly well but I only managed polite, rather tired smiles out of them. Also, you know how you’re supposed to answer questions before they ask them? That backfired. I gave away my best example of showing initiative because I wasn’t sure if I’d get the opportunity later and the very next question was: can you give me an example of a time when you’ve shown initiative? I paused, smiling a little sheepishly. The man looked up expectantly, apparently unaware that I had literally just answered that question. I said something to that effect and the main interviewer, a patronising woman who I’m sure was a primary school teacher in a former life,  suggested I think of another example, like I wasn’t stalling for time while doing exactly that. I thought of one, an even better one, in fact, because it was much more relevant to the role, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that she thought I was a bit simple. Or needed mothering.

This continued when it came to my turn to ask the questions. Here’s my chance to have an actual conversation with these people, I thought, smiling and launching in with a question about the role. The question also didn’t go down well. In fact, I got the distinct impression that the woman found it vaguely insulting or further proof that I was stupid. She answered it rather curtly and asked if I had any more. ‘Yes,’ I said, scrabbling around my brain for the other questions I’d prepared. An awkward silence ensued. I found one in a back corner and dragged it out but it was only something rather pathetic about the size of the team and how many members of staff would be on shift which might have made me seem lazy but really I just wanted a clearer idea of how the job would be in practice. I’m pretty sure she lied, as well. Her answer made no sense and I’m afraid I failed to hide my surprise at it. By this time I was desperate to be out of there and they seemed relieved when I said I had no more questions.

So all in all, it wasn’t that great. But it could have been worse. I’m sure I gave no ‘wrong’ answers. Ah well, it’s all experience, isn’t it?

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