Interviews are distressing; they have made me fidgety, shaky, quite unwell even – that was when I really needed a job.
So what about that instance when I absolutely didn’t need the job? In fact last year I applied for a position to work at the Venice Bienalle on a whim at 10pm the night before the closing date, mostly to prove to myself that I could get to the next stage with as little effort as possible – and I did. My application after a glass of wine was a masterpiece in my opinion – one of the best bull-shittiest things I’ve ever written. I received an email telling me to come for an interview. Despite all the enthusiasm and excitement, I told my self not to anticipate anything too highly. There were countless other artists , ten times more experienced than myself, who had also applied. I knew my chances were very slim so I told myself not too get too invested; not to care. I think caring is inevitable though, no matter how little effort you claim to have put in. Why would you bother in the first place if there wasn’t a shred of hope inside you?
So what was it that – inevitably – went wrong?
My interview for the placement in Venice was on the Monday afternoon of the following week. Optimistic that I was going to be as equally competent in the interview as in the personal statement, I relaxed and did a little investigating on some of the conventional material that we are always advised to study before any interview. It was to be short 30 minute interview with three members of the Venice Bienalle team. This included the curator, the head of the company in charge of employing students like myself, and my tutor.
I awoke on the Monday morn to discover that a wave of nausea had settled in the pit of my stomach overnight. All the facts I had carefully memorised the night before were just a chaotic list of names and numbers. The pre-interview anxieties were accumulating and it was only the beginning of the hysteria that was to follow. But why? I told my myself countless times not to worry – that I did not care about the placement. But I could not shake off the growing stress, and an hour before the interview I was simply a wreck. I called my mum and Alan from my studio sobbing and sniveling, absolutely adamant that I was not going to the interview; that I was too sick. I could not make this excuse work today though. My tutor, yep – the one who was part of the interview process (WHY?!) had seen me earlier that morning and I had bluffed my enthusiasm at her. You might think that her presence in the interview would put me at ease, but I simply felt even more pressure on myself. She would know if I was putting on any fake pretenses like everyone does in interviews. I had to be myself, but not too much like myself.
I had to prepare a five minute presentation on my art practice, using photographs if needed. It’s not normally my style to write a speech having been used to bull-shitting myself through my degree so far. However an hour before the interview I was barely making any sense to my friends, let alone the horrible bosses I was about meet. I hastily scribbled some nonsense about music and performing and how this somehow tied into art until my A6 sheet of paper was a graphite-y mess. Suddenly in this instance of panic, a completely irrational fear materialised: am I too formal?? Is an art based job interview more casual from others – such as retail, being the only other interviews I’d ever been successful at. Did I have to speak in a formal language? Again, something I hadn’t needed to use in over three years. You’re probably right Annie, I told myself thinking back to the casual interviews I’d had for University and for arty volunteering placements. I should try and relax, it will just be a chat. Needless to say that this pep-talk did not do its job.
10:50 – ten minutes before my own interview and sitting outside the room was a fellow classmate. She’d had an interview earlier that day. She told me how friendly the panel been, interested, and that when she was stuck for words they suggested some for her… great.
The other fear factor in a job interview is that someone else is in control. You don’t know what they’re going to ask or how they’re going to behave. For many – myself included, the loss of control adds to the existing stress and anxiety.
Unfortunately, that pre-interview anxiety can really sabotage your performance. A bad case of nerves can lead to serious interview mistakes–including blanking out, blurting, babbling, the list goes on. Evidently, the interviewers could be so distracted by your nervous habits that they won’t even remember your strengths.
And don’t I know it.
I waited until 10 past eleven. Every moment I considered a new possible excuse for my sudden disappearance, or an escape route I had not already rejected. No joke – I almost staged a fake phone call with a non-existent mother on the line telling me she was going to hospital. If my tutor – who would definitely ask for a follow up at our next meeting -was not there I probably would have done it. After ten unbelievably long minutes, I was called in. I tried to bury all the worries somewhere they couldn’t escape for 30 minutes.
Quite honestly, the whole of the interview is a bit of a blur. You know when you try to push awful memories out of your brain? I think that is what happened. Certain memories are that one of the interviewers was very good looking, that I told them how nervous I was several times, and that I stumbled over my words. A lot.
And yes, the panel suggested words for me. And I thanked them for it.
It turned out my irrational fear that I was too formal was in fact completely irrational, because I probably could have been a bit more formal, and a bit more prepared. The Venice Bienalle is one of the most prestigious art galleries in the world after all. Woops.
I definitely think this experience had a huge effect on my self confidence for a long time after it happened. I was so embarrassed by failed speech; the ‘umms’ and ‘errs’. My only solace? So many studies show that the classic unstructured 30-minute interview is virtually worthless as a predictor of long-term performance. You have only slightly more chance of picking the better employee after a half-hour interview as you would by flipping a coin. I know myself that I am an extremely hard worker (when it is required of me).
I still cannot explain why I was so anxious for something I claimed to care so little about. Maybe, to some degree I really truly cared? But did I care more about getting the position, or was it more about proving to myself that I can do something professional with the degree I am studying. Or was it something else? Did I merely want make a good impression on my tutor? Had she not been there would I have struggled through the half hour as much? Perhaps I was trying to live up to the quality of my peronal statement, which was simply never going to happen down to lack of experience in interviews and in professional art. Maybe it’s because I still lack confidence in myself and my art, something I am continuously battling against. Is this why I have my heart set on being a musician instead of an artist? Do I have the competence to do both?
Find out next week in the Blah Blah Chronicles: Episode 8.