“I’m really sorry, but they’re not going to offer you the job.”
I was on my way to Sainsbury’s when the recruiter called. I was feeling quite cheerful and positive, listening to my new playlist of brave, defiant, can-do songs.
“They thought you were lovely, but the leadership experience just isn’t there.”
“Oh, that’s OK.”
I had kind of been expecting it. I had the feeling during the telephone interview that they wanted someone who’d basically already been a senior manager, so I was surprised when they called me for formal interview. My mentor, Gyles Morrison, was less shocked. He thinks that if a healthcare charity receives a job application from a doctor, they can’t possibly ignore it. They have to at least interview. Gyles himself told me he got several interviews purely on the back of his medical degree when he first left medicine.
It was my first ever job interview. It seemed ridiculous that I’d got to the age of 27 without having that experience, but every job I’ve ever had has either been voluntary or in the service of friends/relatives/friends of friends. I was fortunate growing up, because I never needed money. My parents gave me everything I needed without being extravagant, which was wonderful and advantageous in every way except for one: I had no idea how to go about getting work. Medicine was no help at all; in your first years as a UK graduate doctor, you’re basically handed a job on a plate. Actually no, you’re thrown head first into a job whether you like it or not. The only thing to fight for really was the location of that job, and even then, the only weapon available was a stupid tick-boxing exercise called the Situational Judgement Test – the most pointless exam in the history of the medical profession.
I put on my least tatty skirt and a cardigan without any holes in it. I couldn’t find my heels, but thankfully it was cold enough to justify boots. Working part time and taking home just £1300 a month for that last 4 months of F2 has taken a toll on my wardrobe. Incidentally, ‘part time’ for me was 30 hours a week, which apparently, for sane people, is not far off full time. I couldn’t complain though – my paediatrics rotation before that was double that.
I had to prepare a presentation about how I would lead the charity’s new initiative. Gyles thought this was odd – how could I possibly suggest anything without first being introduced to the team and understanding how they worked? I called round some colleagues however, to ask them what they thought was needed from their experience, and came up with some ideas based on that. I don’t mind making presentations, having had to do it so much as a doctor.
I prepared as much as I could. My career coach did some interview practice with me which went better than I expected, and I spent the preceding days googling things like ‘common interview questions’. When I realised one of the common questions was ‘do you have any questions?’, I googled ‘good questions to ask in interviews’ and came across some quite useful suggestions. I felt I’d done as much as I could, and I was ready.
Unfortunately for me, the Victoria line greeted me with ‘severe delays’ that morning. I’d left a full hour and 10 minutes before my interview slot, but as the train crept along, I couldn’t help cursing the universe. Of all things to be late for! I ran from the station to the charity’s headquarters, praying that I wouldn’t look too hassled and sweaty when I got there. My hair, having woken up early to wash it and pin it up smartly, was now tumbling out of its confines. To add to my woes, I still had a trace of that nasty cough that made me lose my voice.
I clattered into their office feeling like a mess. To make things worse, they sat opposite me on the widest table I’d ever seen, so when the CEO came in, I couldn’t even reach over to shake her hand.
I answered the questions as best I could, but I could sense that they were aimed at a level higher than mine. At one point they asked me to give an example of how I’d ‘met an unexpected demand from an external stakeholder’ and the only thing I could think of was the time I turned up in a rural village of Nepal expecting to teach English to kids, and being asked instead to teach deaf young people art in Nepalese sign language! It was one of the best experiences in my life, but I wasn’t sure it impressed them.
“They didn’t hire anyone” the recruiter told me, “I have to start looking all over again.”
Well, that was reassuring. At least there was no one better than me.
“I think the problem is that the new role takes over a lot of what the CEO is already doing herself. There are probably some serious letting-go issues there, if you ask me…”
I laughed out loud at this, but maybe he was just trying to make me feel better. I didn’t know why I cared, really, I knew the job wouldn’t suit me. They had made it clear that they expected results fast, and what I needed was a more nurturing environment that would allow me to be curious and to develop. I guess I just wanted to prove to myself that I can get a job. And it’s never nice being rejected.
However, part of this transition is learning to see the positive side of things, and to stop beating myself up for not being perfect. It’s not always easy; in the last week I’ve have several mini freak-outs, during which I’ve felt like a worthless human being for not working. The last one coincided with a phone call from a friend asking me whether I was ‘just at home these days doing the cooking and cleaning?’
I have made progress, though, compared to when I first quit. I have strategies now for those moments of panic or darkness – TED talks are one of them – I’ve listened to this one by Joseph Liu, an ex-medical student, at least 5 times now.
As nice as it would have been to be able to turn my nose up at a job offer, I’m just happy I got through the interview. After all, it was my first one, and rejection happens to all of us at some point. Perhaps success will be all the sweeter for it; the important thing is believing that one day, there will be success.