It must have been around 2005. I was fed up with my job. I was the at that stage of life where I had the perfect balance of youthful arrogance, a disdain of authority, and just enough knowledge to give me illusions that I could do my boss, and his boss, and his bosses job better than they could combined.
So, I did what anyone would do – updated my CV and sent it out to recruiters. Within about 15 minutes my phone was on fire, people could not believe that the most amazing talent they’d ever seen was making himself available on the free market.
Actually, that didn’t happen, and I was quite confused as to why it didn’t. I kept checking to make sure my phone was working and that I hadn’t missed any calls.
Eventually, after a few weeks of job applications, I received a call from a recruiter. It was like many calls,
“Would you say you have more than five years work experience.”
“Yes, but I work at least twice as hard as everyone else, so I’d say realistically I have 10 years experience.”
“Have you experience in BS7799 standards?”
“Have you experience with windows Es Que El” He asked, clearly reading from a script.
“Yeah, I know Windows sequel server. Did you know that there’s a bug with the SA account in version 7 that…”
“Do you know the DPA?”
“OK, you sound like a good candidate, I’ll send you emails once we set up a time for the interview.”
Even though it was a clunky screening call with the recruiter, I got the interview setup for an investment bank in London. It was exciting, an investment bank is a step up from retail banking. I pictured myself having to upgrade my wardrobe, maybe get a fancy pair of cufflinks and a tie pin. No, tie pins were a bit too pretentious for someone in their 20’s. I always feel like if you over-dress for your age, you end up looking like one of those tiny circus monkeys that wear a suit and hat. Looks cute, but looks like it tries way too hard.
I turned up for the interview in my best Burton suit, a shirt from Next, and some shiny, but tastefully stated cufflinks. How could someone of my skill, ability, and talent not get this job?
The interview was with an older gentleman. Thinking about it now, he was probably only in his early 40’s, but to me he was old. He looked like he must have played rugby back in college with an imposing figure, and piercing eyes.
After pleasantries were exchanged, he explained the role briefly, and how the team was set up – even drew a representative org chart in his notebook.
So far so good.
Until it got to the questions.
It so happens that during the screening call with the recruiter, any time he asked me whether I was familiar with ISO standards, or DPA, or something else, he was marking me down as “proficient” in all these things. Which wasn’t completely accurate.
I mean sure, I knew what BS7799 was, but did I know the sections? The questions? The requirements…
As the questions came in, my bravado tumbled down quicker than the little piggy who built his house out of straw.
After the 3rd question, I think I stopped even trying to pretend. I had that sinking feeling in my gut… I had overestimated what I knew, I felt like the recruiter had misrepresented me, and I felt stupid for wearing cufflinks.
We both knew the interview was dead in the water.
I mumbled something about the recruiter not being clear with me about the requirements. Which I imagine was about as effective as pouring a glass of water over a raging forest fire.
I thought the hiring manager would be angry at me for wasting his time. I was angry at me for wasting our time. Instead, he did something that amazed me.
“Maybe you should consider a different recruiter next time, I sure will.” He said in a genuine manner.
He then spent the next 10 minutes talking to me about how to prepare for an interview. Explained why tailoring a CV was important, and why doing your research on the company that is hiring you is vital.
He also told me that he doesn’t expect people to know the answer to every question. Anyone can do an internet search and find the answer, the skill lies in knowing what question to ask.
Not only did him spending those 10 minutes with me educate me in something vital. But turned, what would have been a wasted day for me, into one of my most valuable life lessons.
Too many times, I see someone getting belittled or mocked for asking a stupid question, or not knowing how how something works. It’s easy to roll your eyes and mock – but taking some time out to genuinely help someone when there is zero benefit to yourself is a true sign of wisdom and of a good heart.
I still have those cufflinks. They’re worn out from use, so I’ve framed them and mounted them to my wall. And whenever I feel stuck, I look at them and say to myself, “don’t try to think of the answer, think of the question.” Well, I don’t really have the cufflinks, I threw them away years ago because they were rubbish. Although, I hope when Hollywood make a movie based on this, the last shot will be of the camera zooming into those cufflinks while sentimental music plays.