Cross-purposes of interviewing for jobs with fear and doubt

By Jay

I had an online video interview today. It was for a library and admin type role, with a requirement to be on site a few days a week, located in a town some distance from where I live. I applied for it vaguely thinking that now is the time to move away. However, when I got the interview invitation, the reality of moving away from living with family was difficult to face. I suspect that I won’t have to consider it, in this case – though I have applied for others, as I’m quite sure that I didn’t get selected. I was told I would find out today or next Monday – and as I didn’t receive an email yet, I suppose, the rejections are sent out next week.

I didn’t prepare much at all for the interview. I only really looked up the organisation to avoid embarrassment should I be asked to demonstrate awareness of what they are and do. I also started a few notes on some of my relevant experiences. I was feeling such despair since my attempts to start a job earlier this week, which I quit after a day in a pique of overwhelmed emotions and now regret.

I finally selected an interview date for this one, which would be conducted via Microsoft Teams. It’s an online video call software with other messaging and communication features. I saw that the organisation was conducting, virtually, two solid days of interviews, which made me quite sure that I’d fail. I’ve failed or been unsuccessful, depending on how to think of it, with two interviews in the past weeks.

I am setting myself up for failure. I don’t prepare because I’m afraid of both the interview but, more, of what the strain I will suffer from social anxiety, emotional difficulties and speech difficulties should I start the job. I also feel despair of feeling lost about my career progress and path. I have no career progression and have been doing intermittent temporary admin/research roles over the past two years.

The night before, I looked up the organisation’s website. I thought to wake early to prepare for the morning interview. However, I couldn’t get myself to get up and decided that I would largely improvise, and rely on some of the preparation that I have done for recent interviews. I have applied for library or archive type roles lately.

My laptop has not been showing the video of my callers for some reason. They can see me but I can’t see them. A family member has a cheap laptop that I borrowed for an interview, but the sound and video quality were really poor. I am afraid of spending money and buying a new laptop, knowing that my financial reserves are fast running down through not working for several months. My camera is smudged with adhesive where I had stuck some masking tape over it to protect against surveillance. At the last minute, I used a handkerchief and saliva to clear it a bit.

I decide that I will do the interview without seeing their faces. As with a previous interview, I will pretend that I can see them. I get out of bed late and have little interest in self-care. I make sure my hair is not sticking up. After the interview, I wondered whether I had something on my nose through the interview.

I had fifteen minutes before the video call to answer a preliminary question sent to me. It was, what do I think are the challenges of hybrid working (working from home and remotely) and how would I face them. I jotted some notes distractedly. I have some experience of both, so had some basic points.

The interview started late. I connected and the screen showed my face. I directed my computer away from the piles of mess in my room. My laptop barely fits on my small desk with all the clutter of stationery, a pumpkin seed packet, water bottles and random paper. But, they can’t see it. They can see my somewhat tired face, with flat hair and the wall behind with a print of an empty rural Italian street scene that I had got from a charity shop a while ago. They can see a bit of the pile of coats and hoodies hanging on my door but not too much. If the laptop, somehow, tumbled off the desk, my very crammed and disordered room would be revealed.

The interviewers are late and I sit looking at my own face. It is calming, as I am seeing an alternate me, freed from the disorder around my head. I’m just a harmless head with a clean background. The interviewers arrive with a greeting and we exchange niceties. I tell them that I’m nervous, as a change, as I want to be more authentic and not place so much pressure and effort on myself to play a role. It did not feel authentic as ‘nervous’ doesn’t capture the anxiety and disassociation that I feel. However, I did not inform them in advance of my anxiety disorder or ask for any adjustments, though it crossed my mind. Perhaps, I feel afraid of being judged and, perhaps, patronised, by, apparently, being looked down upon. Moreover, anxiety doesn’t really cover the extent of my inability to engage with other people, as it goes beyond nervousness to a disassociation or depersonalisation, worsened by some difficulties with speech, in some circumstances.

The interview is ok, as the interviewers were respectful and patient and put me at ease. I wished that I could see their faces, rather than their initials in squares. (If it was their initials – I don’t recall what I saw, as my mind stopped processing a lot and I pretended to make eye contact where their faces would have been). I supposed I heard in their voices that they saw my weakness. I felt a pang of hurt pride but accepted the reality. I hadn’t prepared and barely washed that morning. The interview went ok. The questions were largely expected and things that I had been asked before. I spoke slowly and falteringly but didn’t gabble. I tried to avoid gabbling without thinking, as I do when I become overwhelmed and try to hide my fear in interviews. It is like muddled stream of consciousness.

During my student years, I sometimes left exams feeling quite good about myself. I’d given it a fair go, I had been able to answer all or most questions and if fortune was with me, I’d get a good grade. This hopeful feeling usually means, I think, a 55-60% grade, at best. By contrast, the few times when I had prepared assiduously, to the point of virtually knowing every answer in advance, I knew I had done well and didn’t have to rely on post-exam euphoria.

I think my interview was a 60%, or, perhaps, a little lower. In my desire for authenticity, I partook in inauthentic deprecation, where I openly admitted not meeting one of the requirements (for data analysis). My insecure self told me that they would like me for being so honest but, for the vulnerable, being liked is not much of a merit in a competitive interview situation. Also, on reflection, I realised I did have a little bit of experience in data analysis, having nobly owned up to not having any.

I failed, also, when asked at the end if I had any questions. I forgot to plan for this Achilles’ heel of mine, which floored me before, recently. The interviewers had outlined their jobs, department’s services and the vacant job role at the start but, in my blink-less, nodding stare at the screen, I had not taken much of it in. I continued my radical and noble honesty by saying that I didn’t really have any questions and I was grateful for the interview. It sounded inadequate, especially, as the meeting was not over. Perhaps, it sounded as if I wanted the meeting to end quickly. Either way, the lead interviewer shared a bit more about the role (which I struggled to take in) and then said that the role might become permanent and asked whether I would be interested in that. I wanted to say, “yeah,” but felt afraid that a monosyllable would suggest otherwise, so I made some unconvincingly spoken statement about wanting to work in libraries.

I sensed that the interviewers voices changed after my noble and, on reflection, inaccurate admission about not having any experience in data analysis. They sounded somewhat taken aback and, I thought, awkward. Perhaps, I thought, it ruled me out of the job. In trying to be authentic, I was inauthentic. I should have given myself more time to think and recall some of my experiences, albeit, they were not very extensive.

I became very anxious and insecure by the end, and my falsity increased, as I sought to present some assured cheerfulness as I thanked them for their time. I felt ashamed and stupid afterwards. I do believe, in my circumstances, managing anxiety, emotional and speech difficulties are enough, without, also, presenting a false persona. I had unconsciously determined that I would be myself, as far as possible. And, yet, I found myself instinctively, at times, resorting to protective falsity to be liked. If I am compassionate and, also, factual about myself, playing personae is a part of my normal self and borne of mental and emotional health difficulties. I should try not to be unfairly harsh on this aspect of my self.

Also, there is an element of not trying enough on purpose, as I am afraid of getting the job and facing the very severe stress of entering an intense social and hierarchical environment, which is the workplace.

I had considered cancelling the interview because I hadn’t prepared, felt very sorrowful and I was sure that I wouldn’t be selected. I’m glad that I did it, on reflection, because I managed to answer questions and my confidence was partially boosted by the experience. However, overall, it fits a pattern of half-heartedness borne of fear, ill-health and confusion about my future. It will be important to try and build my confidence outside of jobs so that that step into employment isn’t so challenging and painful. I must, somehow, make some decisions about where I might want to work and in what area. Without some focus, I am demoralising myself in a cycle of applications, confusion and half-heartedness.

Author: Workers' Archive

Covering sensitivity at work and beyond on my website:

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