Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The famous interview story

So here it is the famous interview story. This has actually been saved for a rainy day due to the brilliance of the tale. However, a lull in my story writing has pushed it to the fore, in an attempt to inspire some further creative energy.

After leaving school in the early summer of 1985 I spent a year at Bury ITeC, attempting to learn about computer programming, the modern office and micro-electronics. Aged 16 and armed with very few qualifications and even less confidence, I ventured into the world of employment on a £26.30 YTS scheme. Careers advice and lots of support from Mr May my form tutor had propelled me in this direction after I showed much promise in the field of home computers (that is I reached Eugene's Lair on Manic Miner and level 10 on Horace goes skiing). It was during this year at ITeC that I was to form many solid friendships which are still strong to this day, some 25 years later. In retrospect, I was afforded a pretty much unique position to thrive in the world of information technology at a time that it was in it's infancy. I have subsequently learned that a few of the guys there went on to run multi-million pound companies. In reality, my knowledge of computer programming (my selected field) dwindled during my time at Bury ITeC but I had one hell of a time.

My story is resumed some 3 years later in 1988, when I have found steady employment for Option Circuits, a small printed circuit board company in my local area. An old school friend, Mark Galbraith put in a good word with his boss and my foot was in the door. My earning potential was vastly accelerated from £30.50 pence a week to £105 pounds a week, and even more if I worked a Saturday morning. Better than that I was taken away from the office of a very old wax making company, a role at which I certainly did not excel and I was thrust amongst real working class men on the factory floor. My role was that of inspector, which required dexterity and nimble fingers and a role which I impressed the bosses with by telling them that I was good at threading needles for my mum (that must have swung it for me).

I enjoyed 2 years of employment with Option Circuits before realising that this was not to be my whole life and in a twist of irony I decided to review my options. As luck would have it the local rag, the Rossendale Express had an advert in for a Cobol programmer, which I hasten to add had been something I had studied to a minor degree during my time at Bury ITeC. At that moment it was like a revelation to me, this was it my big chance to impress. At this time there could not have been many Cobol programmers in the Rossendale region and therefore I thought that I had a rip roaring chance of acquiring a job. Now, with 25 years worth of experience behind me, I can see that this was a disaster in the making. My knowledge of Cobol, was limited to a few hours of very basic coding that amounted to writing my name on the screen 10 times and very little else. I think that I was given a day of Cobol training and then I sat for a week behind the green screen of a draconian machine called an ICL DRS 20, my face illuminated like an alien, whilst I pretended I knew what I was doing. That is if I could sit still long enough in between bullying the resident cerebral palsy victim (god forgive), Trevor Parr by either pushing his wheelchair at breakneck speed or leaving him high and dry on the pool table whilst we all went off to our lessons.

Lord only knows how I managed to wangle it but I got an interview with the company, whose name I have long forgotten but whose offices were on a small industrial estate in Stubbins, a innocuous nearby town. It is impossible to put myself into the mind of the 18 yr old boy that I was at this time but from the elevated position of maturity that I now possess, I fail to see how I ever thought that I was going to get this job which in all earnestly was a high level computer programming job. More to the point, how in Christ's name did I even get and interview? I can only presume that the person conducting the interview was himself up for a laugh (I was later able to eliminate this thought from my line of inquiry). But interview I got and for the occasion I purchased my first suit which would be multi-functional for the next 10 years.

The big day arrived and off I went fully attired in my suit, hair gelled to spikey perfection and with the confidence of a battered house wife. It was mid July and the sun was really baking the pavement that day. I turned up in the car park in my very old, very battered Ford Escort, took a few deep breaths and made my way to the entrance. Here I was met by my torturer to be, who firmly shook my hand and gave me a tour of this very small company. Returning to the main office he produced an envelope which contained my application form, which he promptly removed. There it was before him, his eyes scouring it up and down with contempt and ridicule. "So, Mr Mitton, I have a question for you", "erm yes", I mumbled, my words sticking somewhere in the back of my throat. He continued, with little regard for my mumblings "You do know how to spell computer don't you?" Ah ah I thought, spelling is my forte and I quickly ejected the letters C O M P U T E R out of my mouth, thinking that this was all part of the interview process and I had vaulted the first hurdle with feet to spare. "So", he bellowed, "why have you spelt computer C O M P U T O R throughout this whole application form". With these words he thrust the application into my field of vision and proceeded to point out all my spelling blunders, with a swift but stern movement of the forefinger. It was at this point my attention was averted to the fact that my application was full of tippexed out words, which were hideously being highlighted by the sun beaming through the window. I should inform you that this had been typed up by my mum on her old type writer which struggled with certain letters. So, here I was going for a high level computer programming job, with an application form which had been typed up by my mum, on an old decrepit typewriter and which was full of tippexed out spelling mistakes and an untippexed out spelling mistake which just happened to be the word computer. Oh no, I'm thinking to myself, this is not good. Any other word misspelled would have been bad, but not computer, could things get any worse, I rhetorically asked myself. Yes they jolly well could is the answer to that one. "Am I to believe that somebody in fact did this application for you". To this, my only retort was to confess, "My mum did it", I whimper. He tutted, very loudly before leading me off to the next chamber of horrors.

We enter another, even smaller office, which at this time of day is a total suntrap, due to 2 large windows along one of the walls. The master of ceremonies, is visibly irritated now and this is reflected in his sharp words "Right, Mr Mitton, lets see what you can do then"! I cast my eyes around the room and note that it is dominated by a rather large table which is comprised of 4 smaller tables. On the table is a pile of blank A4 papers, a series of writing implements and an eraser. My attention is diverted from these items by the interviewers voice. "So, Mr Mitton, we are going to give you half an hour alone in this room to solve a little problem using Cobol procedures. You have writing implements here and paper, there's a clock on the wall and here's the problem." With this he thrusts a single A4 piece of paper at me and says "you are free to begin", before he hastily makes his exit.

I am left in this furnace of a room, alone with my own thoughts and a heartbeat which is out ticking the clock. My mind is in total turmoil, even without the melodrama which has just unfurled, I am beginning to have doubts about my own knowledge of Cobol programming. With trepidation, I sit down and slowly turn over the question paper, which I stare blankly at for the next 5 minutes. The question might as well have been written in Swahili, that is to say I have absolutely zero idea what the question requires and even if I did, I can't remember one iota of Cobol. I couldn't even write a program which would print my name 10 times on the screen. In a paradoxical moment I am both frozen with terror and sweating my arse off. Struggling to write my name on the top of the paper, I start to hatch a half hearted plan.

A look at the clock reveals that this state of unadulterated panic has lost me 10 minutes of my allocated 30. My eyes flash around the room and are magnetically attracted to the window. I look back at the paper but no matter how hard to think about the question, the window has replaced it in the buffer of my mind. I'm thinking, that's it, that's the only solution to this problem. Cobol, can't help me now but this glass opening in the wall can. I stand up and approach the window which strangely enough on this very hot day, is closed. It is a sash window, which lifts up from the bottom and leaves a half window space through which I can easily escape. I return to the table to cast another futile glance at the problem paper and then back to the window which I have now opened.

The following 15 minutes are spent between window and desk, fluttering between the two like a man possessed. I take one last look at the clock and note that there is less than 2 minutes of my test time remaining. "Fuck it", I say to myself "I'm out of here". With a rush of conviction that has eluded me for the past hour, I stride to the window and hoist one of my legs a metre in the air through the escape hatch. I am now straddling the window ledge, with one leg on the outside tasting freedom , whilst the other leg is still incarcerated in the office. Behind me I hear a noise and turn my head in time to see my Nemesis entering the room. Our eyes meet at the same time and I'll never forget the ridiculous words that came out of his mouth, "haha, I've caught yer". It was as if the whole interview had been some sort of trap to catch me out and I had failed the test with flying colours. "haha, I've caught yer", I mean what sort of response is that? It's almost as ridiculous as my own irrational actions. With his words cast, he points at me and shouts "get out".

Not being a person best known for my executive decisions, I am confronted with a new conundrum. I'm thinking to myself, "do I leave out of the window or should I come back in and leave out of the main entrance"? In a state of confusion, I ponder on this decision for what seems like an eternity, rocking back and forth as if mentally disturbed (which in fact at this point I am). Eventually, after what seems like minutes, I take action, swing my incarcerated leg out of the window and make my escape. Once outside I stride to the car park, forcing myself not to look back but feeling eyes burrowing into my spine. As, I am nearing the car park, there is a shout from behind. I pretend not to hear and continue my forward trajectory. Upon reaching my car, I sit for a quiet moment to reflect on what has just happened. It is only now that my prospective employers final words begin to form in my mind and here they are "Don't call us, we'll call you".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hahaha class!