by richardhutton


So, you’ve spent hours making applications and somebody has invited you in for an interview? It’s a slim chance, and yet you’ve already begun to pin your hopes on it. Many questions may by clanking in your head – will I get the job? Do I really want it? Do I have any choice to accept it if they offer it to me? Will I be any good at it? What will it mean re. Child-care? My clothes have holes in them – can I afford to buy new ones just for one interview?

None of this matters in an interview.

Personal appearances are more important. You only get a fleeting chance to make a momentary impression, so you’d better make sure it lasts indefinitely. Seeking, gaining and losing employment can rest upon instantaneous decisions made by the kind of people who make decisions with long-term consequences in such a manner. The novice may harbour suspicions that this rests upon the shiftiness of your mannerisms; or perhaps the salience of your demeanour: ‘If my hand strays towards bright objects without my own conscious say so, for instance, could this look bad? Or if I wear a T-Shirt with ’Down with work; Up with vibrators’ printed on it will I encounter pessimism?’ for instance. But no: your hair, your teeth, your nails, even your socks – all of these will indicate your potential value to an employer. These are not merely signs of your character: they are in fact signifiers of your possible worth to their organisation.

Suppose, for instance, you haven’t combed your hair? This might mean you had your mind on more important things, or that you were busy running around after children, dogs or elderly relatives and you forgot. It might just mean that you don’t particularly care for vanity. Of course, it could also mean that you are lazy, inconsiderate – if not downright arrogant. You don’t care about other peoples’ thoughts and feelings. You are callous, cruel – a tyrant, in one word. Who knows what you might do if you had the chance? How much time do you spend reading Mein Kampf and creating napalm? How many barrels of it might you have traded with local school-children in return for their cigarettes?

And heaven help you if you’re wearing striped socks as well, quite frankly.

If in doubt, therefore, it helps to remember the following: ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover; but you can assess a person’s character based on the trousers they’re wearing’ (If you’re male and you’re not wearing any trousers at all then this holds particularly true). In other words, the ideal is to look as much like everybody else as possible; and to be uniquely striking and individual in the process. In order to really stand out from the crowd, you have to maintain its uniformity and blend in entirely. You need to be identical and easily identifiable. Exactly the same and entirely different.

This can pose a quandary for the unseasoned job-hunter-gatherer, who may ponder such questions as: ‘Why should such a thing matter?’ or ‘What difference does it make?’. The answer is suitably two-fold:

a) Because you don’t want it to (Sod’s Law).
b) Because other people think that other people think that it should; therefore they do themselves (Social mores).

The solution, however, is surprisingly simple and straightforward: to be yourself, and to be everybody else at the same time – to be a slavish follower who never strays from the beaten track, and who is independent of mind and capable of innovative leadership. That is, a deeply conformist rebel, whose overwhelming individualism is tempered only by its total absence. Or, as your prospective employer may put it: ‘The uniform is smart-casual’.

Interview questions

During redundancy, self-confidence is of course at an all-time low. Perkiness diminishes, while liveliness and cheer take a nose-dive into a concrete parapet. Unemployment can be a degrading experience. At first, a low income is enough to get by on, but when your shoes are falling apart and it’s going to cost you two-thirds of your weekly inflow to buy a new pair, it can become testing. One must learn to eat humble pie in copious quantities and capacious portions. Or grovel, more succinctly. Moreover, bragging does not come naturally to everyone. It is an unusual dialectic, in fact: demeaning oneself out of desperation on the one hand; and gloating on the other. For the unseasoned this can prove to be your undoing. For instance, consider the following real-life testimony, from made-up people:

Q. Why do you think you’re better than the other candidates?
A. I don’t know the other candidates. How am I supposed to know if I’m more highly skilled or better qualified than they are?

At first sight, this may seem a reasonable response; but this attitude is going to get you nowhere in life. It is in fact arrogant to be so realistic in the face of a meaningless question. It is a sign of the contempt you almost certainly feel for a prospective employer – and their business enterprise – that you refuse to boast when they have generously afforded you the opportunity to.

Q. How much excellence would you say you had on a scale of 1-10?
A. What do you mean exactly?

Now that’s just churlish. You may as well hock mucus into their skinny-latte, if you even have the brilliance of contemporary mind to know what that is (I don’t personally. It always makes me think of malnourishment).

Q. Have you ever been double-thinking a re-take when a supervisor has said to you ‘Hold everything and drop it. Let’s close all the doors and open a new window?’ How would you action that?
A. Act on it, you mean? I don’t really understand the question. Please could you clarify what I would need to be acting upon?

Obviously, having such a chip on your shoulder does not yield good employment prospects. This is when you need to stop thinking so much about yourself; and start to think much more about others. You have to accentuate the positives; and de-accentuate the de-positives. It is time to take a long, hard look at yourself and ask:

‘What about me? What about the things that I want? Why shouldn’t I get what I want? Why shouldn’t I have what I really deserve? Why do other people have it and not me? It’s not fair! In fact, it’s more than that – it’s positively unfair!’

Go into your next interview with this level of modesty in mind and you’re going to be a shoe-in:

Q. Would you say that you are unquestionably great?
A. Yes – yes I would!

Q. Why are you so much better than the other candidates?
A. Because I’m motivated, I’m pro-active and I’m brilliant! Not only am I better than them – I’m better than anyone! I’m more deserving and more important and more humble with it! I’m me, me, and me!

Just make sure that you receive a good price in return for your soul. And don’t forget to read the small print. (Mephisto writes in 10 point Comic Sans – you may have encountered his work elsewhere in life. Sub-prime mortgage nuptials, for instance).

Questions continued

Modern interviews tend to focus on vocational experience. Herein lie pitfalls. If you say too little, or too much it can prove hazardous indeed.

As others will attest: if you’re unhappy in life, you’re wrong. Even if you’re only faintly unhappy, you’re still faintly incorrect. Happiness correlates dichotomously with unemployment. In other words, if you’re ‘crazy’, ‘wacky’ and ‘mad’ – especially when you‘re drunk at someone else‘s expense – then you’ll rarely have to concern yourself with unemployment (unless you have genuine mental health problems, of course, like chronic ‘depression’ i.e. being deeply disconsolate. Best not to mention such things in an interview. If you say ‘Last night I drank a full bottle of vodka on my own. I’m mental – I really am’ prosperity beckons. If you say ‘I drink from a bottle of vodka most nights. It makes me feel a little better for a while’ propriety is brought to bear; the corollaries of which are rarely kind).

If you’re a human being, therefore, matters can prove complicated. This translates directly into measures of success when it comes to job applications. For example:

In your last position, you had to start fifteen minutes early and leave twenty minutes late. You didn’t enjoy it particularly, but you still worked hard on behalf of your colleagues, and remained professional despite severe provocation from customers and co-workers. You left because it was making you increasingly despondent, and you were hoping for something better – or at least for a re-vitalising change.

This is not what an employer wants to hear.

Turn it instead into an enriching life experience: you weren’t becoming dispirited and beaten down – you learned a lot about yourself, and developed essential personal qualities along the way. It wasn’t just an unpleasant job that paid the bills; it was a journey. It taught you the value of pro-activity, for one thing. It made you motivated.

This can back-fire quite badly, of course:

‘You used to empty the restaurant bins, alone, for half an hour last thing every night. How was that?’
– Oh, it was absolutely excellent. It was the most enriching experience I have ever had. Really. It taught me a lot about myself, and about life in general.
‘Great. Great. We have a hundred offices and 105 bins. We’ll get you started right away. We can’t pay over-time, obviously, but you’re happy to do it for the sheer love, right?’
– Well, yes.
‘You know, we could halve the cleaner’s hours, and her pay. Excellent’.
– Yes; excellent.

Well, do you want the job or not?