Job interviews - I put WHAT in my mouth to get the job?
I recently had to attend a Selection Day for a national bank that I had applied to.
Having already been through a psychometric test on the phone, an interview with the Branch Manager at my local branch and also an interview with the Regional Manager at a branch in Romford, not to mention spending several hours in the branch followed by a credit check, I was feeling pretty confident that I had the skills to get through the last part of the application process: The Selection Day.
The Selection Day was held in a beautiful country house in the middle of nowhere. Although situated just ten minutes from a train station, my journey via public transport took several hours, and included a bus to Chelmsford train station, a train from Chelmsford to London Liverpool Street, a tube to Farringdon, another train to St Albans and then a further train to yet another station.
From door to door it took me around three hours, which I felt was good going.
The day itself was split into four parts which myself and fellow applicants, of which there were 11, all had to succeed in. Although we had all been briefed as to what to expect, we were naturally all nervous. The four parts were: 1) Another interview, 2) A group discussion, 3) A single person presentation and 4) A written exercise.
After meeting my fellow job seekers and trying hard to be seen to “fit in” by being smiley and generally over-nice, we were all taken to a meeting room and introduced to the team that was looking after us for the day, who comprised of two Human Resources members and two members from Sales, which was the area we were all applying for.
We were told how the day would pan out and also that there were twelve vacancies to fill, so we were in no way competing with each other for jobs, which seemed to bring a collective sigh of relief.
A quick introduction from each candidate followed, which was basically a quick name check followed by the branch we were applying to and what our previous experiences were. All candidate names were written up on a whiteboard in full view of the whole table, and I could see that my name had been put second on the list.
Having listened to 3 others before me run through their introductions with less personality than a John Major fan convention, I decide to start my own introduction with “My name’s Danny, though I’m also known as Number Two, as you can see…”, motioning towards the board.
The distinct silence which filled the room was not what I had been hoping for. Nobody even cracked a smile, not even a fake one, and I wondered whether to give up there.
I quickly finished what I was saying, smile firmly in place, and sat back down wondering England’s 2-1 loss to the French a few days before had caused a nationwide humour bypass.
To make things worse, as I sat down I was asked what branch I was applying for, which was one of the three pieces of information we’d been asked to say in our introduction, and I’d forgotten. D’oh.
For the next part, we were individually given a small folder and told to read the first couple of pages. This was part of the group exercise, but we had to prepare some questions and suggestions of our own to bring to the group. The folder contained information about five banks, their managers, staff and turnovers, as well as staff sick days in the past twelve months and position of the branch in the insurance table.
Although the information supplied was made up, it was based on real examples. We had to fill in a quick graph to show the various aspects that we had been given, and then go through to a group discussion where we needed to give suggestions as to why we believed some branches were succeeding where others were failing and so on and so forth.
I thought it strange that we had to carry out this exercise as the roles we had all applied for would be a much lower level than the roles we were now about to act out.
Having been given around thirty minutes with which to gather our queries, we were then split into groups of three and sent to separate rooms with two of the over-see-ers to discuss.
Another thirty minutes was spent trying to fathom out what we believed was the correct answers, and I was grateful that I had taken the time to speak to everyone downstairs as I immediately felt the benefit of familiarity with one of my group and thus found it easier to engage in conversation and discuss ideas with him.
Although our third member seemed fairly quiet, I felt that, at first, both myself and the other group member did well to ring him in to the conversation, and that towards the latter stages he seemed to interact well with us both. It was interesting to see the different viewpoints that each of us offered on some of the stores, and on one or two occasions how differently each situation had been read.
There was one point that my two colleagues had agreed on and seemed quite set on, which I totally disagreed with, and fortunately I was able to get my views over without upsetting anyone.
All in all it seemed to go well, and I felt that my only failing had been to not bring the shier of my two colleagues into the conversation more (even though this was not strictly part of the task), and also the fact that I dug my heels in about one of the points.
On the plus side, I felt that I had been part of a good debate, had interacted well and had covered all points that were raised in the time limit given.
Lunch followed, which was a free hot dinner in the staff canteen where all applicants seemed more keen to eat than interact, myself included, and where the early starts were starting to show, more through a distinct coffee shortage than anyone catching a quick nap.
After lunch, we were again gathered together before being split into the same groups as the previous morning. My group was dismantled further with each of us being taken for our interviews separately. I sat down with yet another regional manager who went through my CV and asked various questions.
Although my previous two interviews, which had been carried out roughly two and four weeks previously, had been fairly open and easy (so much so that after the first interview I called my recruitment agent to tell her that I felt the interview had gone appallingly as it was over so quickly and so few questions were asked), this interview was the first to follow a procedure that was set out on a piece of paper.
I was asked to give examples using my CV in answer to the questions. For example, “When did you last have to pacify an angry customer, and how did you do this.” Although they were fairly standard interview questions they were still taxing and needed some thought.
The interviewer himself was fairly relaxed and was keen to pick up on points that the procedures wouldn’t necessarily pick up on, such as how my partner felt about the working hours and how I felt about the same thing in regards to having children.
I had originally been dreading this section, as I’m not a great fan of interviews and have found myself to do a very good impression of a bumbling Hugh Grant through some job interviews. For this one, however, I felt that I came across as keen and comfortable.
Despite the hot sun that shone onto my back, and the complete lack of air conditioning or fans in the room, I remained calm and as collected as possible, and was fairly happy that I had done well.
We then regrouped into our threesome and were again seated individually to do the written exercise in which we had thirty minutes to prioritise a list of tasks in a situation that we may be expected to cope with. The situation basically was that you were alone in the branch with only a junior member of staff for company.
Your manager was uncontactable for several hours, it was the last day of the month and you had the following day off. You were then given 15 tasks to prioritise which ranged from the important (a customer on the phone, and a customer in the shop) to the averagely important (follow up phone calls to be made), to the unimportant (lunch with a friend) and were asked to arrange them in the order that you would do them, with an explanation as to why you would do things in that order.
It seemed a fairly obvious choice to me, and I had my order listed in my head after my second read through. It had already been stressed to us that there were no strictly right or wrong answers, but that the exercise was used to ascertain how and why we reacted to certain things.
I finished this exercise with just about no time at all left, and although I was pleased to have my list in a decent order with a comment by each item, I was disappointed that I couldn’t go in depth more with my answers due to time constraints. Fortunately, it seemed that everyone else was in the same boat.
We finished the day off with our presentation. The rules were simple – we had to talk for five minutes about a product that our assessors decided we should talk about. Our role was to “sell” that product and to take questions on completion.
We had all been warned about this previously, having all spent time at a branch at one point or another, and were told that the standard items to talk about were staplers or calculators.
The two colleagues in my group were asked to talk about a calculator and tippex. I got Blu-tac. Yep, you read that right, a small piece of Blu-tac.
Given 25 minutes to prepare for our speech, we were encouraged to use the large flip-pad board and markers that were available, which I personally dislike. However, having heard the emphasis used when the assessor explained that these items were available to us, I decided that I may as well scribble something down for everyone to look at whilst I tried to promote this product.
To start with, I tried to list the features and benefits, which is a standard sales technique. The feature is something about the product, for example, the fact that it is blue. The benefit is the way that the feature can help the customer, for example, it can be seen against a sea of white paper and many other colours.
Having got together a list of features and benefits, I then wrote out my pitch. Once this was done I used the points from my list to draw small cartoons which would fit in with my speech.
Fortunately, I still have my notes, so I can more or less recreate the speech and actions below. As it turned out we pitched these ideas in groups of six as opposed to the whole group which is something we had all feared.
The atmosphere was fairly relaxed, and when the assessors asked if anyone wanted to go first, I had no hesitation in putting my hand up. “Go on then.” Came the reply. “The mouth was willing, but the body’s a lot weaker!” I replied, fortunately to a couple of laughs this time, before I got up and strolled to the front of the room.
So, here’s the speech, as well as I remember it anyway. All parts in arrows <point> like that, indicate an action by myself. Both questions at the end were genuine questions asked by the assessors.
Ladies & Gentlemen,
I’m here today to talk to you about a product called Blu-tac. Blu-tac is what it says. *hold up Blu-tac* It’s blue *push Blu-tac onto the flip-pad* and it’s tacky.
How many times have you sellotaped paper up, only to leave behind a sticky residue on walls and windows? How many times have you run out of pins to pin up notices? Well no more, because Blu-tac is here and Blu-tac can change your life.
First things first, *hold up Blu-tac* you’ll notice that it’s blue. It’s easy to see. No more searching around for rolls of tape. You can keep Blu-tac just about anywhere. Just avoid keeping it under the desk or you may end up with used chewing gum. Remember, if it smells like a minty snack, what you’ve got ain’t Blu-tac! *stop for laughter*
The second thing to notice is that it’s soft. *press the Blu-tac into the table using a thumb* Do this to a pin and see what happens. The worst you’ll do by doing this *repeat the same action* to Blu-tac Is to leave behind your fingerprints – A lasting impression in more ways than one!
Blu-tac is also light, which makes it easy to carry. I’ve already said that you can keep it anywhere, but it’s mobile too. No need to pretend that it’s a fancy bracelet like you would with sellotape. *throw Blu-tac in pocket* Just pop it in your pocket and off you go.
I mentioned that Blu-tac’s name merely shows what the product is, but that’s my next point. It isn’t sticky, it’s tacky. *put Blu-tac in hair* Try doing that with sellotape. *stick Blu-tac to flip-pad* Yet it still sticks to any surface! It’s as versatile as having two pairs of arms.
This leads me onto my next point. It’s reusable and good for the environment. Are you bored with that Y2K Millennium Bug poster on the wall? I mean, it’s only been there for five years! Blu-tac it and you can take down the poster and put another in it’s place. For only a small outlay you have a reusable product. *point to the sky* Good for the environment, *tap change in pocket* better for your pocket.
My penultimate point is that this product is pliable which means *break off a small piece* you can use a little, *break off a big piece* or you can use a lot. *point at diagram on flip chart of the Eiffel Tower* Hell, you can even make models with it. That’s my drawing of the Eiffel Tower by the way. You can see I’m in Sales and not an artist *laugh. roll the Blu-tac into a ball* And to keep things up-to-date, here’s something for Euro 2004 *hold up Blu-tac ball*.
The pliability has another use too. Have you ever been asked to *pause for effect, as if thinking* I don’t know, *pause again before looking at the assessors* do a presentation on an inanimate object with just 25 minutes notice? *smile*
Here’s your answer! *hold up Blu-tac* It won’t do the presentation for you *press down hard on Blu-tac several times with thumb and index finger*, but it’s a great stress reliever!
Lastly, it’s non-toxic *throw Blu-tac in mouth and chew it* It tastes horrible *take Blu-tac out of mouth*, but at least it won’t kill the dog if he eats it! *Smile* Are there any questions?
Assessor: How much is it.
Me: We prefer not to dwell on the price of the product because as I mentioned, it’s reusable, but if you were to but one pack approximately this size *make a size with hands* would cost £1.99 with quantity discounts available from there.
Assessor: I have children. Is it a safe product for them to use?
Me: Yes it is. I have three children myself and I use Blu-tac at home all the time. I certainly wouldn’t chew it either if I thought that it would cause problems!
That was the end. I’m not sure that the presentation went as well as I would have hoped, or that it lasted five minutes as I felt I rushed through things slightly, but I was pleased with the script. After I’d seen the remaining five presentations, I was disappointed that I couldn’t have made greater use of the flip-chart, which seemed to feature heavily in all the other presentations, and also that a couple of the other presentations seemed to run at a nice smooth level. However, I felt that no-one else had the same interaction or sense of fun that my presentation had, and also I felt that I handled the questions extremely well.
On reflection, the day seemed to speed past. Although I was unhappy with some of my answers during the day, I felt that I was being overly critical on reflection. I know that I certainly gave it my best shot, which is all that I was capable of doing.
I arrived early, went out of my way to introduce myself to others and generally looked very good, especially considering the travelling!
I was far from confident that I had done enough to get the job, which is more down to my own lack of self-belief, though as I have already mentioned, I was happy at having done my best, and I felt that I had done well enough that I should get the job.
Fortunately, a couple of days later I found out that I did indeed get the job, and that overall the feedback was pretty good. In fact, the only thing of any real note that they felt worth mentioning was that I spoke a little fast at times. However, this came via my recruitment agent and I am waiting for some official feedback from the Human Resources department of my new company!
All being well, and assuming that my offer letter arrives as promised, I should be starting there at the end of the month.
Disclaimer: This article was written by myself and first appeared on the Ciao website.