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Money

Group Job Interviews Fucking Suck

Group interviews seem to be devised by a generation of managers who view The Hunger Games as a model for how to find employees. The competition and dishonest narcissism of a normal interview, amplified by all the people you're hoping to outshine...

by Louis Rive
May 28 2014, 6:00am

Illustration by James Harvey

My semi nomadic lifestyle worries everyone, my friends wonder how I can live without a savings account and my mother thinks I am depressed. I have no regular job and as far as they are concerned, my boat to achievement has very much sailed away.

It was in the light of a renewed wave of this patronizing bullshit that I applied for my first real job in months. Off the back of a CV that now encompasses a brief stretch in almost every facet of the world of employment, I was rather disappointingly granted an interview to work as a tour guide for American students visiting Europe.  

The company was new and would probably describe itself as "zany". The ad copy on the website read, “You won’t find any cubicles in our offices, we don’t believe in them.” Fun!

The least fun thing was that to get the job I would have to endure a group interview. Imagine the pressure, competition and dishonest narcissism of a normal interview, amplified by and played out in front of all the people you're hoping to outshine to get the job.

The group interview is something that is clearly thought of as a thoroughly modern way of doing things; an open forum for free discussion—a fun ideas platform for everyone to contribute to. But in fact it is positively archaic. Group interviews seem to be devised by a generation of managers who view The Hunger Games as a model for how to find employees.

Illustration by James Harvey

I had never attended a group interview before but I assumed that if I came early, I would have to sit in awkward silence and read literature about the great company for which one of us lucky few would get to work. In what I understood as a desire to regress back to childhood, I spent 15 minutes in JD Sports looking at trainers that I would never afford to buy unless I got this job which I didn't want. I arrived exactly when the interview was due to start. Still, I couldn't avoid a bit of awkward sitting around as the other candidates skim pointless brochures, their eyes desperately flickering with emotions that ranged from malice to hungry ambition.

The attendees were a mixed bunch with many traveling from far-flung parts of Britain and, in some cases, Europe, enticed by the flame of apparent opportunity burning so bright in London. The backgrounds were all artistic – a couple of actors, an artist, a model, a nude model and a stand-up comedian. Each and every one of them was seeking solace in a career that offered travel. They ignored the glaringly obvious reality that they were doing this because their artistic dreams had failed. I suppose I was in the same boat. I was also broke, again.

We had been instructed to dress as if for work. The nude model was wearing sandals and a shirt unbuttoned to the navel.

We were told that the day would start with an "icebreaker." At this point I almost walked out, because of this genuine icebreaker that happened in a Waitrose group interview attended by my brother:

Boss: “If you were an animal what animal what would you be?
Interviewee: “I would be a tiger because, I am a strong individual and I am proud of my own image.”
“Go on then, roar like a tiger. Get down on all fours and roar! Roar for your job! Grrrr.”

Mercifully ours was slightly less humiliating—just the task of situating ourselves around the room in geographical order of birthplace. Pandemonium ensued as people were both ignorant and earnest enough to argue about whether Belfast was further north than Halifax. With my occasional lapses into broad Scottish phrases, the artist who had taken charge of the whole shitshow maneuvered me to the top of the room. I have to admit that I had contributed nothing to the activity and one by one we were asked where we were from. The Belfast-Halifax debate sent Anglo-Irish relations to a new low when it was deduced that Belfast was nearer to the North Pole. When it got to me, I gave my birthplace (correctly) as London, which really fucked up the system. The artist looked at me with a piercing glare. I had said nothing and now she looked the fool. The awkward silence resounded off the lucite of the cubicles. 

Pretty much everything we did quickly descended into a shouting match in which mere “air time” was mistaken for the uttering of constructive opinions. It was a scramble in which everyone tried to express their individuality by all shouting at the same time and giving longwinded answers to really simple questions. The only glimpse of genuine aptitude came from those who stayed quiet and gave logically formulated responses to the questions that the other shit-munchers didn’t know the answers to. Whether this was recognized, I don't know. I bet these people weren't considered “team players” or any other jargon that you can think of. They “don’t have the X Factor.” The whole thing felt like a complete charade.

The next activity was a problem-solving scenario. We had to work out what to do in the event of a lost American passport and imminent departure on an international flight. They split us into little teams, which only seemed to provide more opportunity for folks to shout aimlessly and come up with preposterous suggestions. The stand-up comic took center stage at this one, trying desperately to add his witty commentary to the boring task. One liner after one liner failed as he desperately tried endless gags about obesity in Americans and how all Italians are lazy. It quickly became apparent why he was seeking a new line of employment. The whole affair was protracted and the atmosphere vicious. The comedian argued vehemently with the artist over US foreign policy.

Illustration by James Harvey

I've never quite seen the appeal of tea, but it managed to calm everyone down for a bit. During the break, people who had moments ago been vicious competitors in a war for a job were totally pacified. They talked amiably about “a good old cuppa,” and said, “pass the biscuits dear.”

After that, hostilities resumed. Divided up to test our language skills, the model frantically grasped at the man in charge, desperately reiterating that she spoke no French. She must have lied on the form. Now she was paying the ultimate price as she squirmed in the face of a tirade of Francophone questioning. The boss stopped just before she cried. Another girl spoke suspiciously good Italian and after a quick cross-examination she revealed that she had lived in Rome for five years, which seemed to bizarrely disqualify her from the job of hanging out with foreign people. She was so close to going through undetected but failed just at the last moment when being asked where she lived. “Roma”, she instinctively replied. Just like the bit in The Great Escape before where Gordon Jackson responds in English to the Gestapo. Her application had said she lived in Milton Keynes. So close.

The whole ordeal ended with a simple job description and a guarantee of two things. Firstly, if selected, we lucky ones could look forward to a weekend residential training at the Heathrow Premier Inn. If that wasn’t enough, the second part sold the whole thing—a guarantee of ten days of work a year at a whopping £39.48 per day. Having been unaware of this before, I was now ready to totally rubbish the prospect of ever working for these robbing turds. However this didn’t discourage the others.

After three hours of torture we were released to the standard two-weeks of sanity eroding uncertainty. This saves the employers the hassle of rejecting people there and then, so they don't have to deal with any anguished tears or suicide threats.

The nude model was the only one to say goodbye to everyone, the fact that he had been in a room surrounded by people who were not focusing on the wrinkles on his balls must have been a pleasant novelty. The artist clearly wanted a word with me over the icebreaker debacle but I was too quick, dashing down the stairs into the stale air of a central London afternoon and the smell of sweet freedom.

Two weeks later I got the job. Will I take it? Probably.