A Bizarre Conundrum

A few years back, I applied for a consulting job involving some work with ‘chemical products.’ The job description required some general attributes which I believed I had and although it wasn’t clear to me what this work would entail, the chance to use my transferable skills made it seem like an obvious opportunity.

Let’s first briefly analyse my applicant profile for context. I was a scared PhD student wearing long hair not like a pop samurai, but like a decrepit Afghan hound. I had little to no confidence or self-esteem, no interest in my line of work or any other for that matter. I had little understanding of the ‘real’ world of work outside the chemistry laboratory. I desperately needed a change, so with consulting being a highly popular option with science graduates, I wrote my CV, and when an interview invitation arrived, I thought: ‘What do I have to lose?’

Having done some cursory interview preparation, I turned up and here is what happened. An experience so awful it haunts me to this day. I had it coming? Of course, and I guess in a way I deserved it. What brings me to write this article is the confusion from some happenings I have still not fully understood to this day.

Two interviewers with professional demeanour welcomed me and started talking about the job and the company. They were meant to be joined by a third in the second part of the interview, I was told. While this was unfolding, something clicked and I realised I wasn’t meant to be there. Their generous explanations made me feel welcome, but their length gave me time to ponder how much of a nuissance I might actually be, and therefore unwelcome. Like a deer stunned by the headlights, the best strategy I could think of was to maintain my interest, ask any apparently clever questions I could think of, and assure them of my desire to ‘learn on the job.’ I didn’t feel I could point out that their job description was inappropriate; this would have made me look immature. Unfortunately, I was not making any progress in understanding what this was about, and they were starting to notice. Questions about my background and potentially relevant experience I might have had moved on to specific technical questions I could not answer (pivot tables!). And here it gets strange; instead of ending the interview, they resumed their initial discourse while we were waiting for the next interviewer. Only much later, after I had several times felt like suffocating in the stifling heat of that room, which I am sure must have actually had exquisite climate control, did this person communicate that they would have to excuse themselves as they could no longer make it.

This all must have taken between one and two hours (how long was the whole thing supposed to take?) and I was close to breaking down. I am sure my strategy of ‘holding my ground’ actually worked against me and made me look like even more of a moron than I already had. I was exhausted and glad it was over. I can at this point only thank these kind interviewers for their time, once again. As one does.

One of the interviewers kindly explained to me on departure how to operate the elevator in order to secure my exit from the establishment. In the befuddled state I was, I think I found the instructions welcome.

This all added up to my ego suffering a blow that left me reeling and made me learn the hard way that just because you can write a CV that ticks all the boxes on a job description, you can still be the most useless candidate that ever applied.

The three questions I am going to leave you with are these:

  1. Why would a recruiter write such a job description that it gets them the wrong people applying?
  2. Did the recruiter or the interviewers look over my CV before the interview?
  3. Why would some busy people spend so much of their time interviewing a useless candidate?

I am sure the reader would by now have come up with their own hypothesis.