Job Interview


Job Interview



            Here’s what you need to know about job interviews — no one’s ever ready for them. At least not in the way you would think. Not you, and not the HR person you’re talking to. His name is Sherwin, he’s tired: he’s an introvert, and yet he’s already interviewed half a dozen strangers before 10 AM. And with all the problems the company’s beset that he is privy to, if he weren’t trying to meet a quota, he’d probably advise you to run out the fastest way you can. That is if he likes you, and because you’re the 7th person he’s interviewing before lunch, he probably hates you already, but don’t worry about it. It’s nothing personal unless it is.

            You sit in the small meeting room. You hand Sherwin your printed resumé and wonder if the creases on the edges will somehow be deducted from your points. You know it won’t be, but you can’t help but worry.

            You sit on the swivel chair he points out for you then tells you to wait a while. He needs to rush to the bathroom real quick, where he’ll enter a stall, sit on the bowl, scream soundlessly into his palms. He will walk out after a few minutes, take his time washing his hands.

            “Hello again,” Sherwin says after returning from the bathroom. He looks over your resumé. He’s taking quite a while scanning it and you think, hey, didn’t you review my file already? Don’t worry about it. Again, Sherwin’s tired, and you’re interviewing for an entry-level position, so your file looks the same as about 98% of the people who’re interviewing for the same position. He’s read about a hundred of them already. One thing he’s noticed about all these new resumes, though, is how fancy they look. Looking at them makes him wonder if he should update his own this way. He has to get ready, after all. He’s on a 6-month contract, and he might not get renewed.

            But of course, you don’t know these, so you sit there, waiting, running lines in your head. You’ve looked up the most common job interview questions. You’re ready.

            Wait, are you?

            “Tell me something about yourself that’s not in your resumé,” Sherwin says.

            “I’m Margaret, Maggie for short,” you say. You hesitate and think — did I put that in my resumé? You’re not even sure anymore. You look up at Sherwin, and he’s looking at you with a most patient look. Not unlike the look your first-grade teacher, Mrs. Cunanan, gave you when you volunteered to recite a poem in class, only for you to blank out the moment you stood in front. “Oh captain, my captain,” you began, even though you had no idea how the rest of that poem went. That wasn’t the one you memorized; that was what your smartest classmate, Francis, recited last week. It’s only the first quarter of first grade, but every parent and teacher at school already knew that he was going to graduate as your batch’s valedictorian — and they weren’t wrong.

            Where’s Francis now? You have no idea, but then again, why is that on your mind right now?

            “I’m 21 years old — no, I’m — ” You pause and try to peek at your resumé. 

            “That one’s here,” Sherwin tells you with a smirk. He’s not mocking you or anything. Please don’t think that. If only you knew that Sherwin is one of the few genuinely nice people in this company you’re applying to, only because he won’t have enough time to see himself turn into one of them.

            Why is it so hard to come up with anything about yourself on the spot? Normally, you wouldn’t have any trouble. Your mother even accuses you of “making everything about you.” So why is it so hard right now?

            “This is only my fourth callback since I graduated four months ago,” you find yourself blurting out.

            Sherwin smiles once more and nods. Finally, something interesting. Though, of course, you’re not pleased with what just came out of your mouth. “Why would you say such a thing?” you can just imagine your older sister, Julia, saying, as she adjusts her glasses on the bridge of her pretty nose. Your mother often reminds you that you spent your toddler years imitating your older sister, but to what end, you have no idea. What’s the point of constantly being reminded that you can mimic your sister all you want and still you’d end up looking like the fatter and less pretty version that you are? This is one of those things about you that you wish people won’t see on you — that you work hard at being smart because that’s all you have over your sister, and yet you know you’ll never stand out, because no one likes a smart person, at least not in your family.

            And now, out in the real world, without a textbook to land on, it seems like you’re not even that smart anyway.

            “So what jobs have you applied to?” Sherwin asks, leaning forward like this is an actual conversation instead of a job interview. This is why Sherwin got this job — he knows how to make people feel like he has all the time in the world to listen to them.

            “I interviewed for two editorial assistant positions at Peak Pub,” you say. You cringe. When you arrived at the lobby of Peak Pub at around 8:45 am two months ago, you had the gall to roll your eyes at how small it was. But then when the employees started arriving, you began to realize just how wrong you looked in the context of this small publishing office. You felt the stiff collar of your pink blouse scratching the back of your neck and the blisters forming at the back of your feet caused by the painfully pleather shoes you had on. You then began to notice your competition and found them aesthetically qualified, just accessories away from looking like regular employees of the publishing house. Right then, you knew that there was no way you could possibly get to a second interview, so you purposefully bombed the one with HR because, why make the effort?

            Only that’s not true. That’s just the story you tell yourself. The truth was, you tried and still you bombed. You mentioned magazine titles of a competing publishing house and blanked out on the actual titles of the ones under Peak Pub. You lied multiple times and were caught point-blank. At the end of both interviews, the HR assistants didn’t even bother ending with a vague “We’ll call you”.

            “That’s two, what’s the third one?”

            Sherwin is quick. He may be tired, but he’s keen when he’s interested. And you can see that he finds you interesting.

            So, should you remain interesting? Or employable?

            “I applied for a ground stewardess job,” you say. You hope you don’t look too embarrassed. Nothing against the job. It’s just that people look at you funny when you say that you applied for a ground stewardess job. When you ask why, they say, not vaguely, “You just don’t look the part.”

            “Interesting. Care to share more?” he asks, tilting his head, surreptitiously writing on your file.

            “I just applied to see if they would call me for an interview. And they did.”

            Sherwin nods. He puts his pen and your file down. You try to take a peek at what he’s written.

            “What do you write when you’re writing on an applicant’s file?” you ask when Sherwin notices you looking. You’ve subconsciously decided to be interesting, after all.

            He turns the file upside down and smiles at you. “Oh you know, observations, quotes. We interview a lot of people, so it’s best to write things down.”

            “So are you also going to write down the fact that I asked you that question?”

            He nods. “Most likely.” He picks up his pen once again, but only to return the cap on it. “So, tell me about your ground stewardess interview.”

            You clear your throat. “Well, I spent the entire day in there with at least 20 co-applicants. The office looked like an old warehouse. The first part, we had a quick exam. Then after lunch, they called only a few of us in and said the rest could leave. We had a panel interview. All the applicants were inside the room while each of us was grilled, so we got to watch each other sweat in our seats. That lasted for about an hour. And then, after another break, we were called in for one-on-one interviews. I made it until then, so I thought I stood a chance. They haven’t called me back, though. It’s been two months.”

            “Are you still waiting?”

            You shrug. You enjoyed that day, despite feeling sad seeing some of your co-applicants leave after each level. Somehow you’d managed to bond with a group of strangers you had nothing in common with over just a couple of hours. This is surprising because you normally have trouble making friends. Didn’t you spend the last year of college a basic loner because Vim, the one friend you’d made the first three years, had to drop out?

            “Which one would you choose, if you get a job offer from us and from that company?”

            You’re stumped. If you were allowed to be honest, you’d probably pick the ground stewardess job, just because you don’t actually like the vibe you get from this office, just by walking through its hallway. But is that even a real reason?

            You can see that Sherwin is seeing something in your hesitation. “That will probably depend on the offer, huh?” he says, not expecting you to answer. He makes a quick note on your file. “So, what are your strengths and weaknesses?”

            “Strengths?” you repeat. Then you look at your ingrown nail, the one you’d picked at earlier. You have no idea that it bled, but there it is, the blood staining the index fingernail bed. You start to feel the sting the moment you notice it.

            “My strengths,” you repeat. Then you sigh. You were never taught to name your strengths growing up. The only thing you ever heard from your mother and father were things you could “improve” on.

            “Can we start with my weaknesses?” you ask.

            Sherwin’s eyebrows shoot up. “Any reason why? We can start with either, but I find it curious that you’d ask to start with your weaknesses.”

            “It’s just easier,” you say, not bothering to filter yourself now.

            “I appreciate your candor,” Sherwin says.

            “Do you?” you ask. You’re on a roll. You’re now thinking about all your ongoing job applications, and how this one isn’t actually on your list of the ones you’re praying to get. But who are you kidding? At this point, you just want to be employed, bad vibes be damned. Even though your parents are constantly telling you to be patient and that the job for you will arrive in God’s time. What is God’s time anyway? Isn’t time a human construct?

            Sherwin laughs. “Can I guess one weakness of yours?”


            “Just a guess. You have mood swings,” he says. He then tilts his head, waiting for you to react.

            “Is that a weakness?”

            “Right.” Sherwin laughs, a little nervously. For the first time, he seems young and unable.

            You chuckle to break the awkwardness. “It’s true, though. I can be moody. I’m pretty temperamental. At least that’s what my mother says. I’m too transparent with my feelings, she often adds.”

            “You know you can spin that into a strength, right?”

            “You can?”

            “Yeah. You can say that you’re a “what you see is what you get” type of person.”

            You nod. “But can’t that also mean that you have no layers as a person?”

            Sherwin snorts then nods in agreement. “Well, let’s see, I guess now you can say that one of your strengths is that you like to see things from different perspectives.”

            “Thanks,” you say, somehow confused.

            “And you know how to be grateful when someone gives you a compliment, instead of brushing it off.”

            “Wow,” is all you can say. You look at Sherwin, wonder how old he is, and if this is his first or second job. He doesn’t look that much older than you. In fact, he only seems older because he’s the one with the company ID and the job.

            “Can I ask you something?” you say.

            “Go ahead,” Sherwin says.

            “Is this your first job?”

            “No. This is my second.”


            “Why’d you ask?”

            “Just curious.”

            “There, another strength. You’re a curious person. See, you have plenty of strengths. You could’ve easily started with that.”

            You smile. You try to sit up straighter. Something is gnawing at you, and it’s this: you want Sherwin to be your friend, but you’re sure you won’t get the job. You wonder if you can call him for advice or whenever you need cheering up. You also wonder if you can say all these things to his face, in the spirit of honesty, since that’s apparently where this interview is going. But you don’t. Because there’s still a few minutes to the interview, and who knows, you might just turn this one around.

            “Okay, then, moving on, where do you see yourself five years from now?”

            “Five years?” That’s the one you’re always nervous about answering. “I really don’t know.” Although you do know. You know plenty. You daydream a lot about your future, so much that you forget about existing properly in the present. You bump into things, accidentally hit people on your way, mutter apologies like enchantments, and then you’re surprised why you have so many bruises at the end of the day.

            “Five years,” you repeat. “In five years, I would like to be proud of myself.” You’re surprised at how true this seems.

            Sherwin’s expression softens. “That’s nice. And I’m not just saying that.”

            Now, Sherwin’s in a bind. You don’t know this, but he likes you and thinks you deserve better than this company that won’t renew his contract in three months, no matter how hard he works and no matter how well suited he is to his job. But then he thinks this company might stand a chance with a person like you within its midst.

            Who is he kidding? This company is well beyond repair. It’s a corporation with rules and standards that some mere mortals made up years ago which they somehow can’t bend even when bending is the only humane thing to do.

            But is this interview even about the company? Isn’t this about Margaret slash Maggie, 21, recent college graduate, on her fourth job interview since graduating last April? And anyway, he doesn’t have the last say. He knows you’ll have to go through at least one more writing exam, then a panel interview, and one last meeting with the department head. The ball’s not in his court.

            And the truth is, he’d very much like to see you again, even if it’s just to usher you into your panel interview and wish you luck.

            But of course, you know none of these. In front of you, Sherwin has a professional smile — friendly but distant, betraying none of his thoughts and biases.

            “Okay, well, do you have any questions for me?” he asks.

            “That’s it?” you ask. Sherwin nods. He regards you one last time with a tilted head. You note the tiny mole on the tip of his nose. It stands out like a nice afterthought. You marvel at the randomness of human features. You wonder if you have an interesting mole on your face. It’s been a while since you studied your face in the mirror without inspecting it for faults.

            “What are the next steps, if ever…”

            He walks you through the next steps and you nod. You wonder if you bombed the interview. You did not, at least not in the traditional sense. You don’t know yet, but you will be called in for the writing exam, but you won’t get a callback after that. You’ll get a different job, and so will Sherwin.

            There are a lot of things you don’t know, of course. In five years, you still won’t be proud of yourself, but you’ll remember that interview. Most of all, you’ll remember Sherwin, and how he managed to see your strengths even though you were so hellbent on seeing only your faults. You’ll realize that not everyone in the real world will give any such a gift, even the people that you love. And so in the next five years or so, you’ll try to be a Sherwin for other people, spinning weaknesses into strengths. You won’t be as good with it when applying it to yourself, but you’ll keep on trying anyway.

            So, no, you did not bomb the interview, at least not in the traditional sense. But, you won’t get a job out of it. You’ll get something better. But you won’t know it until you fail this one.



Kannika Claudine D. Peña

Kannika Claudine D. Peña is a freelance writer based in Bataan, Philippines. She graduated with a degree in Creative Writing from the University of the Philippines, Diliman.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post