I've been subjected to some weird interviews from three to seven people at a table interrogating me to a person who screamed con artist the second I shook their hand. This interview was the most stressful by far because the process took so long and the stakes were so high. Every interview is a learning experience and this one helped me learn more than I thought possible.
I interviewed for a position at an elusive three letter acronym government organization that's notoriously hard to get an interview with. Sorry I can't tell you which one. I actually honor the documents I sign. They had an open position I was qualified for involving research, which I love, so I applied and almost instantly forgot about it. The chances seemed so low I shouldn't worry about or get my hopes up. This was the second time I applied for a position with them and never heard back the from first try.
But one day I got an email. You have been selected! Come in for tests! My type A personality was so excited to be selected out of an unknown number of applicants and I love taking tests about subjects I'm well versed in. Don't tell me. The coolest people you know also love to take tests? Same. Usually I'm great at tests and once you leave school there isn't another way to compare yourself to others excluding social media. Which isn't a bad thing but high test scores gave me validation I was smarter than everyone else. This validation cycle didn't stop until school was over.
There were two tests. One focused on logic and the other on writing. I was a little worried about the logic test but knew I would ace the writing one. After about a month after each test I moved on to the next round. The real challenge was the next step. The in person interview. I've done tons of interviews and wasn't too worried until I was told to fly out of state for an interview. In less than 2 weeks. In the summer which is the busiest season at my work. Cue the, what have I gotten myself into? monologue. I talked to my fiance and my parents. I was simultaneously terrified and excited. I knew I had to go for it.
Even though it was a long shot I kept myself motivated with an internal pep talk. I'd gotten this far. I could go further. I also didn't want regrets bouncing around in the back of my head for the rest of my life. So I got on a plane heading to Colorado the night before with visions of myself feeling victorious and fist pumping when I returned. I was as prepared as I thought I could be. Throughout the months long process I was practicing interview questions, researching and learning everything I could about the organization since that first congratulations email. What could go wrong?
Everything went smoothly from checking in at the hotel to actually being able to fall asleep in a different bed than my own. I laid out my interview attire, black blazer, black trousers, blue shirt and pointy toe black flats, and make up. I brought a packable breakfast so I wouldn't be forced to go to the complimentary hotel breakfast and waste valuable time. I paced around my room the morning of pretending to watch the giant TV murmuring in the background. I guzzled my complimentary water and eyed the cookie saved from the night before. It would be my reward for later. I was ready.
Staying in the hotel the interview would take place to keep the morning chaos to a minimum was smart so I didn't rush down until 5 minutes before my interview. I still had conventional pre interview jitters which never leave me until I enter the room where the firing squad awaits. We were taken in groups to hotel rooms where our interviewers sat waiting for us. Three people sat behind a table echoing the same benign room I was staying in. At first things were going great. My prepared answers were gleefully spat out like a congenial robot. I hoped they didn't sound canned.
Then the questions veered off into uncharted territory. They were more "normal" than I anticipated. The types of questions anyone would ask you at an interview at any old company. I was getting duplicate questions but couldn't give the same answer twice. I'm not the best at improvising so paused several times for what seemed like hours to formulate some kind of new response that didn't sound lame. This happened several times and I felt more nervous and unqualified after each one.
After it was over I ran up to my room and started sobbing while ripping off my confining interview clothes. Discarding the blazer I changed into my sweats and called my fiance. I told him the whole story while sobbing and walking around outside making slow half circles around the hotel trying to avoid others hearing my sob story while sucking up some crisp Colorado air. I felt like a failure. I felt like I wasted my time. I felt like my dream job had slipped through my fingers and would never come back.
My flight back home was miserable internally and externally confined in a middle seat with no optimism left. I finished listening to podcasts and tried not to think about my ordeal which was racing away from me. I knew I wouldn't make it past this round but a sliver of hope inside me thought if enough people bombed I could make it. Maybe. But that was swiftly crushed by the final email of thanks for playing but you are out of the game.
Slowly I began to think of all the little red flags which I glossed over during the process as, “I'll worry about those later.” I began to be a little bit grateful I hadn't gotten through. I would have to deal with a very extensive background check, then sent to training for several months and probably have to move out of Texas. Not to mention the polygraph test which would have been equal parts thrilling and nerve wracking. I was in the middle of planning a wedding and had no idea how these things were going to mesh together. I would probably have to reschedule the wedding which would be ridiculous since it was months away.
Then I started to think about what the job and structure would be like. I enjoy structure and rules to a point but being in a large government agency with tons of rules, regulations and red tape didn't appeal to me. I wanted to fit in there but was afraid of losing myself. Even though I would be doing valuable work helping others I would still be a cog in a very big machine making it hard to stand out and get promoted or seen.
Even though it would have shocked my past self, ultimately I'm glad I didn't get the job. While the prestige would have been nice the reality was unlikely to live up to the Hollywood fantasy and fervor. I desired more freedom and flexibility in my work environment not less. So I'm glad I failed. Otherwise I wouldn't have found what I really wanted out of my career and life.