Published 13/10/2013 on GoThinkBig
I’m a big believer in preparation, and nothing needs more careful preparation than a massive disappointment. While we scramble, fumble and stumble for success, there’s no harm in working out that rejection backup plan – something more life-affirming than “lie on face, cry on face, fluff pillows, repeat”.
So that’s why eleven days after my first interview at the Guardian, I was browsing guitar lessons and overly-optimistic gym memberships when my email pinged.
Thank you for attending the assessment centre at the Guardian, and especially for attending in Doc Martens. We can honestly say you’re the first to turn up in racist attire.
Given the red ribbon laces, we’ve decided you’re unlikely to be a genuine fascist sympathiser, and are therefore pleased to invite you to a final interview with Alan Rusbridger, Tara Herman and Paul Johnson.
The interview will last one hour, which should give you plenty of time to establish yourself as the comic relief between the extraordinary candidates you’re up against.
I got through? To the FINAL stage? How? Where can I buy left wing shoes?
Back in The Chairs
I arrived half an hour early and immediately regretted it. I’d forgotten the Guardian lobby chairs situate the sitter’s knees so high it’s like sitting in a bath sideways. I relaxed tentatively, trying not to look like a tall, fat man watching the superbowl in his pants.
My nerves spent the wait doing a pop-and-lock. Everything seemed strange. In the space of 12 minutes, I saw four people who looked just like Edward Snowden. Are they having a lookalike contest, I wondered? Oh for goodness’ sake, brain…yes, that’s what happened. When someone comes to your paper, risking his life and freedom to blow the whistle on excessive government surveillance, what else can you do but call in the looky-likeys?
Through the glass wall to a newsroom, a woman stopped typing, turned her keyboard upside down and vigorously SHOOK it, as if it contained a vital antidote, or her next big story. The news screens flashed up the headline, “The badgers have moved the goalposts”. Snowden dopplegangers, keyboard abuse, badgers calling the shots…what the hell was going on?
And then they came for me
Before the twilight zone fully closed in, the Guardian’s henchman came for me, extricated me from the chair and escorted me to The Interview Room. The henchman was in fact a nice lady called Jemma, who chit-chatted while my brain went into fight-or-flight mode, shouting vague yet insistent escape plans. I hope Jemma didn’t notice how distracted I was – it’s hard to make small talk while telling one’s brain a) to shut up, and b) that OF COURSE it’s too late to email and say I can’t make it.
We passed a huge room with high ceilings and rows of trendy hacks staring at screens. Amazing how every newsroom looks the same since digital became the medium that mattered – from award-winners like the Guardian to the place where they told me to Google their house style, it’s all just people staring at screens…
“Hi, I’m Alan.”
Oh holy mother of Netflix, I was so busy pontificating on my amateur philosophical idea, I was suddenly shaking hands with Alan Rusbridger and didn’t even remember my “Don’t you want to see this smile every day?” smile. I attempted a backup, but quickly abandoned it in case he thought I took “Hi, I’m Alan” to mean, “Let me see your teeth”.
I shook hands with Tara – who smiled so warmly my trembling started to subside – and Paul, who struck me as someone I’d be terrified to bore.
Mercifully, they located a cup and poured me some water – by this point my salivary glands were on strike. Apparently they were against this meeting and wanted no part in it. In what was possibly my coolest move of the entire interview, I didn’t mention that my mouth wasn’t producing saliva. How slick am I?
Alan describes himself as looking like “Harry Potter’s lonely uncle”. He is bespectacled and owlish, although he didn’t strike me as particularly lonely. I can’t picture his chin quivering to the lyrics of “All By Myself” just before having lunch with Julian Assange (or Benedict Cumberbatch, if Julian can’t make it).
He listens with no nods or “mmmhmms”, and stares intently, almost as if he needs a stronger prescription for his glasses. Pauses cause him no visible discomfort. He’s also incredibly soft-spoken for such a bonafide badass. I scanned the walls for the antlered head of the News of the World, but I guess he keeps it in his office.
We sat down, and Alan looked at me.
“No Doc Martens today?”
(He’s a FUNNY badass.)
An hour is a long time to talk about yourself when you’re used to being anonymous. I’d have loved to slip on my aviators and pixelate my face. I got off to a shaky start, if my adrenaline-blurred memory serves. Anyone listening to my Snowden babbling would think I was explaining it to a crazy-eyed killer juggling loaded Kalashnikovs.
Paul said, “I laughed at your picture from Trainspotting on your blog.” He explained to the others, “It’s the scene where Ewan McGregor bursts out of the toilet, and it’s entitled ‘How it feels to get a final interview’.”
“Oh dear,” I said, “Are you picturing me coming out of a toilet now?” I think it’s safe to say they all did.
They were friendly. They were open. But truth is, this is the most brutal recruitment process I’ve ever been in, because it’s exactly what I’ve been campaigning for: it’s meritocratic. If I don’t make the cut, it will mean I didn’t make the cut. And not because I’m not white enough today, or because my people haven’t had their people round for dinner. Fairness packs a punch.
At the end of the interview, they asked to take my picture so they could remember who I was. That was a relief – if they need a reminder of who I am, they might not remember my boot faux pas, my bungled smile or the image of me emerging from a toilet.