Now, can you tell us, Rachel – what do you think you could bring to this role?
Well…. I am good with information systems, and… and people, I’m good with people, and… um…
I take a sip of water, a deep breath, and start over:
well, I like to think of myself as kind of a buffer zone, actually, you know, between people and technology and I think that’s going to be important for this job, and… um, and I have a real passion for… I really want this job and, and… really, and… um. And I…. I’m very…. um. And I…. … … so yeah.
My mouth lets me down again. Under pressure, communication between my brain and mouth are severed. In extreme cases, such as here, lines of communication are diverted to my fingers, so that while my mouth gapes lifelessly, my hands sweep complex movements in apparent efforts to form a new and intense sign language.
The interviewer is a woman just a little older than me. She has an air of integrity and composure that leads me to believe that she would be the ideal boss. A thin cardigan the colour of pine needles is draped around her shoulders, and as she looks at me over her spectacles, I see that the desperation she recognises in my eyes is met with a calmness she hopes will be infectious. It helps, but I’m too far gone.
Thank you, she says, and smiles at me. She looks down at her papers, and I notice a momentary twitch of her forehead, as if she is denying a frown. She holds the papers up and reads deliberately from them so that I know this final question is planned, and not born of her own capriciousness:
what have you done to improve your communication skills?
I came home early for this interview. I spent the week away, me and five teenagers; daughter brought two friends and son brought one.
The boys cycled, swam and messed on their skateboards, then lay on their beds and watched videos of other people cycling and messing on their skateboards. Every now and again they’d come and tell me the headlines and highlights.
Each of the girls, individually, is lovely: friendly, intelligent and witty. But together they formed a three-headed monster that glided round the place with its pretty noses in the air before draping itself over the settees, each set of perfectly-painted eyes fixed on a pod, a pad or a phone. They compared twit-feeds, searching out images of young women to criticise: too fat; too skinny; not enough arse; too much cleavage; orange face; tan lines; wrong hair colour; wrong brow shape.
As I unloaded the dishwasher I reflected on my bare face with its deepening lines, my unstyled hair, my comfortable jeans and jumper older than my daughter. I realised I am not even in the game; I saw myself through this beautiful youthful monster’s eyes, as something almost sub-human; I understood why it judged me as fit only for cooking and clearing away its vodka glasses.
In return, I judged the monster by my own standards and found it shallow and inconsiderate.
My ideal boss phones me with the news I am expecting. But although she has to judge me, she doesn’t condemn; instead of giving me up as a bonzo, she offers practical advice and encouragement:
hello Rachel, I’m sorry that we can’t offer you the job at this time. But it looks as though we are going to readvertise the post, and I’d be very happy for you to reapply. If you do, please give me a call and we can have a chat about the job so that you feel more prepared next time.