How fake are you? Do you adapt to different company? Go a bit posher or more street? Do you banter with your great aunt in the same way you have the craic in the boozer?
Job interviews bring out the fakes in us as we attempt to become the sort of person potential employers are looking for … some people are good at it, others, not so. I’m especially bad at BBC Boards, which is like being a contestant on America’s Got Talent, but with four really mean Simon Cowells. And, in my endeavour to carve out a glitzy career as a local radio presenter, I clocked up a lot of these excruciating interviews, pinballing round the country as I spectacularly failed to impress in one city after another.
Radio Sussex did give me a chance, where, asides from wiping out one studio because I knocked hot chocolate into the console, disabling a transmitter when I dithered during a continuity announcement, and mangling the radio car’s mast on the biggest news scoop of the eighties, they trusted me with a little show of my own, a hotchpotch of royalty-free music, terrible jingles, and people ringing in about lost terrapins or wanting to know why the bin men hadn’t been after a bank holiday. However, my contract was not renewed, probably because I’d cost the station more in repairs than I gained listeners, and so, as I worked out my notice, it was back on The Local Radio Interview Tour for me, this time, to Radio Northampton.
As per, I sat opposite four inscrutable BBC personnel, to be grilled on my broadcasting acumen.
My board consisted of: a scary editor type, fifties, balding and sporting a fine beer belly, a Deborah Meaden lookalike wearing a tangerine suit, sexy heels and a facelift, a pretty smiling HR lady whose job was just to ‘be nice’, and an adolescent in an ill-fitting jacket, introduced as the Admin Officer.
“So, tell me the kind of show you present?” demands the scary editor type.
This immediately wrong-foots me. How to describe the platter of tripe I served up every afternoon?
“Well, er. It helps people? You know, they ring in?”
“Ah. See yourself as a bit of a Watchdog, do you?” asks Deborah Meaden.
“Oh yes. Yes, I do.”
“Okay, so .. let’s give you a hypothetical …”
Do you have to? I think.
“…You see in the local paper, an ad that says: ‘Surrogate Mothers’ wanted.”
I stare at her: the then contentious topic of desperate couples making illegal transactions with women willing to have a baby for them, forming no part of my memory bank.
They wait. The clock ticks. The HR woman smiles encouragingly, and the Admin Officer looks like he’d have more fun at a seminar about ball bearings.
Deborah Meaden’s eyes bore into me. I think she might eat me.
“I’d …” I begin, drawing out ‘I’d’ for as long as I can. “I’…ddd…”
‘You’d perhaps see if there was a contact number or address on the ad?” tuts DM.
“Yes!” I almost shout. That’s it. “Yes!”
"And then?” asks the scary editor.
He is now actively trying to pull words out of me, rolling his hand in little circles.
“Perhaps you’d call the number?” he suggests.
There’s another pause as they all wait. The Admin Officer is eyeing up the window, clearly considering jumping out of it.
And then - suddenly - I have clarity, it comes to me!
“Well,” I say, confidently. “I’d assume it’s a guy who has placed the ad …”
Four pairs of eyes regard me, giving nothing away.
“…And I presume he’d be a gentleman with a certain type of profile …”
I spy a spark of interest amongst the interrogation squad.
“…You know,” I continue, “needy ...”
Now there are even a couple of nods.
“… So, I’d say …”
Collectively, they seem to sit up. Even the Admin Officer. They are impressed.
“…I would say … that … I would love him very much …”
The HR lady’s willing smile is now so big, it looks like her cheeks are about to explode.
“…And that I’d try to be a really good mum to him.”
There follows a bit of a pause.
“Great!” says the scary editor, finally.
“Perfect,” adds Deborah Meaden.
“So! Have you got any questions for us?” interjects the HR lady.
I take a moment to look like I am considering this. I can’t think of one question for them.
“Well, thank you so much for coming,” says the scary editor, leaping to his feet to shake my hand, the others following suit, even the Admin Officer. “We’ll be in touch very soon!”
The winning smiles they give me as I gather my belongings and turn to head for the door are of such encouragement, that I think I might have nailed it. Then, just as I put my hand on the door handle, it comes to me just what a Surrogate Mother is.
Without turning round, I exit as smoothly as I can, walk out of the building, and never look back.
Nowadays, sometimes, I can even think about it without curling my toes.
And what very nice people not to laugh in the face of a fake Watchdog. Although I’m sure it was quite some time before they managed to collect themselves for the next candidate.
Btw, I didn’t get the job.