Saturday, 28 May 2011

When London Transport and Interviews Attack

'No, no it's cool. I've left an hour and a half to get there, and it should only take 45 minutes. I'll be fine.'

In London, these are what we like to call "famous last words".

My interview was at 9am and the train - packed, delayed, stationary - was devouring my travel time. A child screamed, then moved his sticky fingers from my coat buttons to the wire of my ear phones, giving them a hearty tug. I clung precariously to a sweaty hand rail next to a pushy woman and the child's buggy. Enraged passengers at each platform, unable to find room for their ample, incredibly rude backsides, yelled angrily at me to move down the carriage. "WHERE?!" I replied, "Shall I get into the buggy?". Then "Oh, sorry" as they spotted the offending object. "Oh, sorry indeed".

Things were not going well.

A bus ride, an apologetic phone call and a quick shoe-change later; I arrived at the interview three minutes late.

Let me start by saying this. Had I known an interview for a writing job could involve being tested on division, multiplication and number sequences, I'd have spent the night revising GCSE Bitesize rather than scouring my brain for witty content ideas. From what I could discern, the 50 number and word puzzles that were placed in front of me seemed to serve only one purpose: to remind me how utterly shit I am at maths.

Maths makes my brain shrivel. It panics me, flusters me and makes me wish I understood the strange finger-formula for remembering my nine times table. That is why I write. Because if my career choice depended on knowing how to divide big numbers in my head, I'd be spending my days mine sweeping in McDonald's.

Fifteen minutes passed and my exam paper was collected.

Shit the bed, I thought as the HR Woman left the room, What next? "Put these trainers on love, we're off for a run"?

My mind hullaballooed by cryptic word and number problems, I stumbled through the verbal interview that followed. If given the job, what would I be told to improve on after three months? I entered two minutes of very deep thought, which produced two extremely vague answers. "And a third?" she prompted.

The heavy thinking resumed.

"Err, make more cups of tea?" I japed into the silence, somewhat unwisely. There are several stock answers to this question, and that probably isn't one of them.

I struggled on. The tables turned. What questions did I have? I asked about the potential salary, stated as "Dependent on Experience" on the job description. She told me. I was disappointed. She asked my current salary. I added five grand to her number. "Oh."

"Well, if you want someone with a lot of experience who can just get on with writing good stuff, then that's me."

But if they're looking for a mental arithmetic enthusiast with no interest in ever leaving home (or buying a new pair of shoes ever again), and a flair for telling HR Managers exactly what they want to hear...let's be honest.

It's probably someone else.


punctuation said...

The biggest advantage to me of being both a self-employed computer programmer and a fairly well-published poet is that I avoid such stupidity as having to complete such activities as random math tests.

The HR people like giving out these sorts of parametric examinations because it allows them to quantify the unquantifiable: human beings and their foibles, so that they can judge whether or not a square peg really can fit into a round hole.

A simple rule of thumb is; if the company are afraid to tell you the salary range until the interview then they're probably hoping to either get you as cheaply as they can or the pay is below the market rate for the job - both of which are flawed policies since it results in a workforce which are, or feel they are undervalued and a likely atmosphere of everyone treading water until they can find a job that makes them happier and pays them better.

You deserve better.

modelofamodernmajorgeneral said...

That does sound pretty arse. Hopefully you'll find a job that's worth your time and effort.

ps - do you actually want to know that 9 times table trick with your hands? Or am I being all engineer geeky and literal on you?

London-Lass said...

Quick Jo - 6 x 6? :)

Sorry that the interview was poo. And, less a case of you not being right for them, just them not being right for you.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear. I hate when interviewers ask irrelevant questions. The worst is when they try to come across as quirky/fun - I once went for a project management role where, at the end of the interview (which had been recorded on a video camera in the corner of the room), I was asked a quick-fire round of questions by way of "Spice Girls or All Saints? Oranges or Apples? Hot or Cold? etc, etc. I wouldn't have taken the job if it wasn't for my absolute desperation...

Ellie said...

You got a post out of it. Who knows, maybe you'll get a job out of it too. Punctuation's comment is spot on. Nothing more to add.

j said...

Ditto what punctuation said. A math test? Really?

modelofamodernmajorgeneral said...

Perhaps it's all because you're Arts Graduates ;)

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

punctuation - Is there a blog award for 'best comment'? Nail on head, and also made me feel a lot better about the situation. Thank you. The "examination" and generic interview questions were so at odds with the job description (they asked for someone lively, energetic and brimming with ideas) that they actually ended up giving me a bad impression of them.

model - Mate, I've been taught that damn finger trick at least ten times, but I can never remember it. If you manage to write it in words and then test me in like a year to see if I remember, then you'll get a prize.

Londonlass - I think you're right. And 6x6? Bloody hell. Off the top of my head, no idea. True story.

Anon - Someone at work said that had happened to them, the employer came out with all these weird questions and they just thought "WTF?"

Ellie - That's how I look at most bad situations these days, "ah well, another one for the blog". Waste not, want not.

j - It was traumatic. I got flashbacks to mental arithmetic tests back when I was 9, although at least then I had the times tables on the back of my ruler. THE TERROR.

model - We are the damned.

theperpetualspiral said...

That sounds almost as bad the the Psychometric tests some companies like to do.

Worst case at least we got a blog post of out it :p

modelofamodernmajorgeneral said...


it's ok, I don't hold being an Arts Grad against anyone ;)

Right, 9x trick:

1. hands out in front, palms towards you, little fingers next to one another.

2. number your fingers, thumb on left hand is one, thumb on right hand is 10, left little finger 5 etc etc.

3. decide which multiple of 9 you want to find out.

4. as an example we're going to find out 5 x 9....

4a. drop your fifth finger (in this case your little finger on your left hand). [the finger to be dropped corresponds to the number you wish to multiply by 9]

4b. you now have 4 fingers raised to the right of the dropped finger, and 5 raised to the left.

5. The number of fingers raised to the left is your 10's, the number to the right your units.

5a. for our example, we have 4 x 10's (represented to the left of your dropped finger) and 5 x units (to the right), i.e. 45.

6. The result of 5 x 9 is 45.

7. This works all the way upto 10 x 9.

8. If you're not sure of your result, add the 2 figures together (i.e. 4 + 5 in our current example), they should add up to 9.

modelofamodernmajorgeneral said...

bugger. you need an edit function!

delete 4b.

replace with:

4b. you now have 4 fingers raised to the left of the dropped finger, and 5 raised to the right.

That'll teach me to try and do two things at once....

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Cue me, sitting in my office staring at my ten wiggling fingers.


Ask me anything!!!!

Ellie said...

BEST TRICK EVER!!!! We don't learn that in elementary schools in the states. (We don't learn much).

modelofamodernmajorgeneral said...

364 days to go.... ;) ?!


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