My Worst Job Interview

I was running late, grabbed some toast, said goodbye “good luck!” came the reply and with that I set off, no worries I thought, the school will offer me coffee…

I arrived at the school on a drizzly summer day and pressed the buzzer, the door opened and in I went. Reception was packed with kids being dealt with, I was at the back of the queue, fifteen minutes later I was able to sign in and taken to a small, stuffy, room in which there were 12 chairs. I had been the first to arrive at 8am, my allotted time, I was told the others would be arriving at half hourly intervals and, yes, there were to be twelve of us. By 9am, gasping for a coffee, I and my two fellow interviewees asked whether there was any chance of a cup? No, we were told, but there was water. Grateful for anything we accepted. Water it was.

One of my fellow interviewees had stayed over in a hotel the night before and the other had come by train, that morning, from Bristol to London. Another arrived, newly flown in via London City airport from Scotland, it was 9.30 am and we were shown around the school by a couple of year 9 pupils who didn’t think much of the school.

When we got back from our travels we were handed a timetable for the day and my main interview, because my surname was R and there were no Smiths or Taylors, would not be until the end of the day.

We condemned interviewees sat in our stuffy room, chatting, wondering what to do and a new applicant arrived with the news that they had heard there was an internal candidate. A deputy head arrived to take someone up for interview, a candidate who had yet to have the inspirational look around the school, we asked whether it was true and we were told yes it was true and that he currently had the role on an ‘acting’ basis, he had had the role for the year and he was applying for the permanent position. At that point the person from Scotland withdrew and looked mightily relieved.

My tummy was rumbling, the others went off for dinner but it was time for me to do ‘the test’, I was taken to the library, given a ‘test paper’ with various questions about what I would do if…. The test was timed, I was hungry, pleased with my answers… But hungry…

I returned from the test and was immediately taken along to the dreaded pupil panel. This consisted of eight year 9 pupils who asked a variety of pertinent questions if they had been asked by adults, they were probably penned with the help of adults, but elicited awkward responses from me as I felt nervous about divulging personal details about my life and experiences to a group of thirteen year olds. I had to stop myself for asking for some chewing gum that most of them clearly had access to…

Beyond hunger I returned to the ‘room’, others talked about the poor quality lunch and I asked the receptionist when I could have mine, only to be informed I had missed it. I enquired as to whether there was a shop nearby and she informed me it was half an hour’s walk away and that my presentation ‘preparation’ time began in twenty minutes. I felt imprisoned by some bizarre regime whose job was to torture me in a variety of ingenious ways.

I asked for some water.

I watched as a plate of sandwiches were taken in to the main ‘interview room’.

Why did I stay? God knows.

I prepared a presentation on a given topic in my allotted half hour and was told to wait until the panel were ready.

Then, finally, it was my time to be interviewed. There were twelve people on the panel and a rather unassuming person introduced themselves as the Head teacher but only after the student voice rep had introduced herself, a parent governor, a teacher governor, assorted deputies of this and that and the other, a union official, and an interested parent observer and a couple of heads of department.

They had empty plates in front of them, coffee cups…

I did a great presentation but as the interview progressed I began to fall apart, hungry, feeling like an idiot for not withdrawing, upset with the way I had been treated, I felt angry and tearful. I didn’t want to show it, but my answers became more and more wild and ill considered, I was past caring.

But I still cared, I needed a job.

That evening I was rung up by the Head who told me I hadn’t got the job. I asked him who had, he said they had decided to offer the job to the internal candidate and had decided they didn’t need to interview him. I was apoplectic I gave the Head teacher a piece of my mind about how awful the whole day had been and how he could improve the whole process coffee and food featured highly in my feedback. He said he didn’t have to listen to this and put the phone down on me.

At the end of the following Autumn term I heard that the Head had been dismissed, suddenly, for unknown reasons. This gave me the opportunity for a wry smile, I wonder what had gone wrong?

11 thoughts on “My Worst Job Interview

  1. I had a similar experience. I had a streaming head-cold and practically no voice. All those involved in interviewing us, had looks of thunder all day long. The classroom observation, though the children were delighted and delightful, was like being judged for some awful crime I had committed. When the last question came – ‘What can you offer this school?’ I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to say, ‘Haven’t you read my CV and letter of application? Do I need to repeat it?’ I felt like I had been discounted from the moment I entered the school and I should have left immediately. Of course I wasn’t offered the job and am very grateful in retrospect.


  2. That’s awful, good job you didn’t get the job. I had an interview where they made a shortlist after the lesson observation and written task and then sent 2 of us home without bothering to interview us. The head offered to give feedback but then never returned my email. They wouldn’t treat pupils like that. An hour of their time to conduct 2 extra interviews was obviously more important than treating us like that.


  3. This sounds the model of a bad recruitment day. It should be as much about them selling the school to you as you selling yourself to the school.

    It seems to be an awful thing with schools (or does it extend to other sectors?) that even if the incumbent ‘acting’ person has been doing a really good job, you still have to go through a charade of a recruitment day.

    The only occasion I can think of in my school where a senior post wasn’t filled by the person already doing it was because they truly fucked up the interview day by ‘hinting’ to the other candidates that the job was his. Unfortunately for him, another candidate complained about it, and he was put out of a job.


  4. The NHS can be worse. I know of a case in which a senior finance position in an NHS Trust was advertised. A shortkist of six was invited for an afternoon panel session ‘ to meet non execs and various other assorted persons’. There was to be an evening meal followed by a formal interview the next morning. At the end of the panel session, two candidates were told not to bother staying for the meal, at the end of the meal two candidates were told not to come to the formal interview, of the two interviewed the internal candidate got the job.


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