"How did I get here?" I'm sat in a room with about thirty other people my age, both men and women. All are immaculately dressed and sat bolt upright with a look of intense concentration on their faces. They are watching a man stood at the front of the room with a perfect tan and an expensive haircut exhorting about the world of business to business sales. I on the other hand am slouching under the weight of my own nerves and wishing that I had ironed my shirt.
I'd been applying for a couple of jobs a day in my last few months of University. Going for the "throw enough stuff and some of it will stick" method. This involves logging on to all the job search websites you can find, uploading your CV and then using the "One Click Apply" option for any job title that vaguely catches your eye. It's easy and it makes you feel productive but it backfires a little when one of them actually calls you back and starts asking you why you're interested in their company. I'm still unsure how I got through to the assessment centre - they probably just needed to make up the numbers.
Anyway I'm here now and it's terrifying. Upon entering the waiting room I'm greeted by the crowd of my fellow applicants discussing the University societies they're head of, the grades they're predicted (all first classes) and their sporting achievements (One of them is wearing a Team GB 2012 Olympic jacket). I spot a small group in the corner looking as lost and as unenthusiastic as I do and slide over.
"How come you applied then?" I ask my fellow seat fillers.
"Gonna need a job after Uni; just been trying anything" is the general consensus.
I nod in agreement. Once our groomed and tanned speaker has finished his pitch our grilling begins. We are each asked to stand up and describe our greatest achievement in life (three guesses as to what the guy in the Team GB jacket chose). Most of these echo the conversations in the waiting room, with people talking about running life changing charity events overseas or leading sports teams to improbable victories after starting as underdogs. When it comes to me, I stand and start to talk about some difficult Off Piste skiing I once did, it's actually quite an exciting story if its told properly but the way my voice squeaks and my lip trembles when I tell it to the group takes the edge off of it a little.. well, a lot.
After this first humiliation we're paired off with another applicant. The girl I'm paired with seems nice. Her greatest achievement was a comedy sketch she did with her drama group at university that was deemed successful enough to be performed at a comedy festival. I ask her a few questions about this and let slip that I feel a little nervous. Mr Haircut then stands up and tells us that for our next task we are going to have to sell our partner to the group and they will sell us, then we have to convince the group why we're better than them, and they will do the same. It's starting to feel a little like Battle Royale now, or the Hunger Games, whichever allusion you prefer.
So the group sits and watches one dynamic duo at a time stand up and sing each other praises before ripping each other's heads off. It's nasty but you can't look away. Soon it's our turn and we take the floor, the interviewers are sat directly in front of us taking notes like judges on some twisted reality talent show. I start, and tell the group how great my partner would be, saying her sense of humour would make her an affable and likeable sales person and that she's an accomplished actor, something that sales people often need to be! I'm not sure the interviewers take too kindly to this, they frown and their pencils start scribbling quite fast. She then starts to sell me, and does quite a good job of it. I'm almost convinced that I'd be right for the job!
So when I tell the group about why I might be better than her, I decide to take the high road, I don't point out her faults but instead talk about how my own skills might be more useful, I hand over to her smiling kindly as if to say "no hard feelings" and "we can play nice". She then tears me apart. Pointing out how nervous I am, how the situation is intimidating me, saying I'm too inexperienced and clearly not tough enough for the world of business to business sales. I'm even more convinced by this presentation than her last one and start slouching and looking at my shirt again.
Mr Haircut takes the stage again now, he says that it's time for lunch and we're all going to take a break. He then reads out a list of names, including mine, and asks us to wait behind. As the group peels off I notice without surprise that the people left are mostly the "seat fillers" I got talking to in the waiting room. He thanks us unconvincingly for taking the time to come down today and that we'd all done really well to get so far but unfortunately we hadn't made it through to the second half of the day. Minus the sales speak he means "Get out and don't come back". No one looks disappointed.
Whilst I'm taking my four hour train journey back to North Wales, glad to be out of the lion's den, I realise I hadn't enquired about reimbursement of my £50 travel expenses. I drop my recruiter a quick email asking about it and get a speedy response saying that they're illustrious company doesn't provide this service. The most trying and humiliating interview experience I think I've ever had and all it cost me was fifty quid bargain.
Good luck in your next interview!
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