Interview etiquette

‘A hungry stomach cannot hear.’ – Jean de la Fontaine

I was pitching my services in a meeting a couple of weeks ago when it became obvious that my interlocutor had stopped taking in anything that I was saying. He had simply glazed over and stayed that way until I left. Obviously this was a bit irritating – I had travelled some distance for the meeting – but when discussing it with others afterwards it seemed obvious that he wasn’t being unprofessional, he was just hungry; yet another pat on the back for Abraham Maslow. And I have plenty of experience of poor etiquette in interviews to compare it with. Two examples will suffice for now I think.

At a (then) very large IT supplier I was in perhaps twenty minutes into an interview scheduled to last 45 minutes when someone became visible through the window pane in the door making the universally recognised gesture for going to the pub for a pint. My interviewer abruptly stood up, collected his papers together, gestured me towards the door and said “We’ll let you know”. When the company filed for bankruptcy a few years later I was neither surprised nor disappointed.

On another occasion I was being interviewed by the FD of a (then) well known high street chain with hundreds of stores, for a position as his number two. Everything seemed to be going well, when I became aware of a man stood on the other side of the window into the open plan office gesticulating aggressively towards us. Initially my companion professed to not notice him, but this just served to infuriate the chap outside. His face became very red and he started shaking his fist and then banging on the window with the faint sounds of swearing and cursing filtering through. Eventually he could be ignored no longer and it was explained to me that Mr Angry was actually the Group CFO and therefore, at least nominally, in charge. “But” my prospective employer assured me “you should ignore him; we all do. Now, when can you start?” Funnily enough I decided that perhaps it wasn’t the role for me after all. The group went steadily downhill and eventually the name disappeared from town centres in the late 1990s
‘The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.’ – Epictetus

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Shaddap you face

‘The urge to be stupid is a very powerful force, but there are always alternatives’ – Lois McMaster Bujold

The newspapers this morning are full of the derogatory comments by Andy Street, the managing director of John Lewis, about France and the French. His intemperate remarks – for which he has subsequently sort-of apologised using the Mike Ashley defence of claiming that it was all a joke – included objecting to our neighbour’s economy, railway stations and believe or not their food and wine. His outburst seems to be being excused as part of the traditional enmity between the countries; a tradition that has always seemed to me to sit oddly with the fact that there hasn’t been any conflict between us since the battle of Waterloo two centuries ago. In the end it doesn’t really matter whether his sense of humour has been spoiled by watching too much Top Gear or whether – as I have seen suggested elsewhere – he is actually rather fond of French wine after all. Speaking as someone who has had his own experiences of saying the wrong thing can I offer him some advice:

‘The wise man satisfies himself by abstinence’ – Confucius

Or, if that’s too subtle:

‘I wish that people who have trouble communicating would just shut up’ – Tom Lehrer

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