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The Great Telephone Interview Disaster of 2013

On Thursday I had a telephone interview that will be sealed forever in my memory as one of the most mortifying experiences of my life, second only to that time in my freshman year of high school that I impulsively hugged my crush. He stood still and said, "Uh...Hi?" Then I ran away.

Because I was anxious to impress this employer, I asked to use the land line at my workplace. We started off on the wrong foot when the committee called my cell, so I had to cut them off at the beginning and give them the number for my office. It was only then, when I switched, that I realized that this phone was glued to my desk at a very awkward angle. Nobody has used it much before, including me, for more than answering wrong numbers and informing the last coworker to leave that, yes, I am still here, please don't turn on the alarm and send the police after me. So I'd never noticed that the phone is stuck fast to the far corner over the big filing drawers, so the only way to use it from my chair is to sprawl face-down over the desk, as if I'd dived heroically to answer it.

After they secured my permission to record the interview for an absent committee member, we started with the interview proper. I couldn't hear anyone very well because they were using a conference phone on speaker. Of course I couldn't see anyone, either, so when each of the five present introduced themselves in turn, I could only answer like my bewildered crush ten years ago: "Hi!" "Hi!" "Hi!" "Uh...Hi!" They asked me why I was interested in this particular position, and I babbled about having a background in the life sciences, and I did my MLS because I had an interest in academic librarianship, and this position offered a little of everything I liked to do: liaison work, research support, emerging technologies....

And then, dead silence.


I looked at the phone in my hand. I hung it up. I waited. It rang and I picked it up again with profuse apologies. They laughed and moved on.

"Tell us about a time when a reference or teaching experience didn't go well, and how you could have improved the outcome."

So I droned about the times at CeDIR that people would call us up in tears because their car broke down or their heater stopped working and their disability payments weren't enough to cover the repairs, and how the only resources we had to offer were cobbled together by students who didn't know what they were doing and...

"Hello? Hello? Are you still there?"

God effing damn it. I put the phone down. It rang. I picked it up. Dead silence. "I think we should switch back to the cell," I said into the void. "Did you hear me? I don't know if you can hear me. Okay."

My cell rang. I answered with profuse apologies. "I'm so sorry. The land line was supposed to be more reliable." Polite laughter all around. I got in a bit about role playing with coworkers to prepare for tough reference situations. They moved on.

"Can you tell us the ways you would like to improve as a professional, and what science librarians in general should be doing in the next five years to meet the changing needs of their patrons?"

At this point, I was a mess. My mental composure had been shattered into tiny shards on the office floor. I was pacing in manic circles, subliminally aware of stopping only inches before ramming into the filing cabinet, the desks, my supervisor's prized potted plants. I babbled about how, "as a student and a young professional," I was limited to the lowest rung of the ladder and never had the opportunity to supervise people or to develop collections, and how you can study such things in the classroom but you can't master them until you gain experience in the workplace, but that's just me personally, and for science librarians in general...

"For science, I wouldn't know because I haven't been one yet."

Brilliant! My genius sparkles under pressure! (When I told Sweetie about the interview later, he said I'd shot myself in the foot with some of my earlier answers. When I got to this part, he changed his mind. "You didn't shoot yourself in the foot. You strapped yourself with C4 and walked onto a crowded street to blow yourself up.")

I usually talk too fast and too high (it's the curse of the short vocal chords), but in the final stretch I reached Alvin and the Chipmunks territory. I tried to save myself by talking about how you can't recognize the weaknesses of a field until you've worked in it for a while. I guess the default answer would be that we need to be more involved with web development and new technologies. I asked for more details about the position and grasped for brownie points by chattering about how refreshing it would be for all of the subject librarians to collaborate together in one building. I gushed that it's a wonderful idea for the job to begin in summer before the rush of the new school year, while the faculty have the time and inclination to get to know the new staff.

And then my memory gets a bit fuzzy, but I know the woman from HR said they'll invite the top candidates to fly in for on-site interviews in the first or second week of June.

I don't expect I'll be finding a ticket in the mail.

At least it's all over. The only remaining mortification is that the absent committee member will be listening to the whole recording, probably snorting espresso up his or her nose.

And I get to do it all again on Tuesday, when some nice people from Oklahoma will be ringing me up.


Mark Marnell (May 11, 2013, 11:36 pm)

Keep the faith. They might have been impressed with (1) your honest refusal to speculate about something you don't yet know anything about, and (2) that you kept swinging under adverse circumstances. This could be like the time you thought you "flunked" because you had only gotten 89% -- which was adjusted to 120% on the curve.

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