When people talk about trolls on the internet, I didn’t imagine that would be how I’d end up being perceived myself. Still, all’s well that ends well after all. Let me explain.
So, the next stage in the CWF recruitment process was to agree a date for a Skype interview. Usually I interview quite well, I should do, my profession is Careers Adviser after all. However, for various reasons my confidence has dipped, it’s a couple of years since I had a ‘proper’ interview, and I’ve only ever had one previous Skype interview (for the job in Vietnam) and that was a bit hairy as the connection kept dipping in and out. I also had a job interview once years ago, using some sort of weird link up for a job in Hong Kong. This was pre Skype days, and I had to travel to a ‘media centre’ somewhere or other where a whole film studio type set up had been hired for the purpose. I did the whole interview looking at the interviewer’s picture on a huge movie screen, not realising that I’d have fared better had I instead stared at the massive camera in front of me. I must have looked at best evasive, at worst psychotic, avoiding eye contact at all costs.
Anyway, I’m older, uglier and if not wiser exactly, less trusting than ever. This time I’d leave nothing to chance. I wasn’t expecting the interview to be especially gruelling, but the technology intimidated me a bit, and I was feeling rusty. I spent ages doing all the correct preparation Top Tips for Skype Interviews. I agonised over what height I should put my screen at to avoid more desperately unflattering neck shots. I experimented with what to have behind me (even going so far as to remove my drying knickers from the radiators in the back of shots), and even with what to wear. I had a few dummy runs with the webcam which were fear inducing to say the least. I suffered from what I hope was an irrational paranoia that I’d inadvertently turn the webcam on whilst I was bearing down on it naked. I tried variants of where to look – due to the position of my camera on my laptop I look cross-eyed and shifty however I did this. I even practiced smiling in front of the mirror. None of this really helped my confidence all that much. I think the main issue is that I have unwittingly purchased a laptop which has a cruelly high-definition camera built-in. Instead of a forgiving poor definition soft focus headshot, I appear in a savage high-definition pore-defining unforgiving animated mug shot. This is very bad. It is reminiscent of that bit in Gulliver’s Travels when he is small and surrounded by the Brobdingnagian giants. He is repulsed at their huge size revealing their every pore and skin imperfection vastly magnified. Honestly, I felt like I would be offering up an inadvertent audition tape for the next series of embarrassing bodies… I went on to experiment with lighting, distance from camera, anything, anything at all to prevent me looking like a troll. It was not entirely succesful. After some tantrums, I decided that I have to face the fact that the camera does not love me, and I am to be recruited for teaching skills not appearance (well I hope so anyway) so I needed to just get over myself and smile a lot. That is what I did.
The morning of the interview, I got up ridiculously early, washed hair, dressed (including pants and trousers, don’t want to find I need to get up to fetch something and find I’m doing a big reveal more than I planned for) blah de blah. Set up the laptop. Went to the loo. Sat staring at laptop. WEnt to the loo. Got a glass of water. Re-read CV. Panicked about not having done enough background research about the company so started doing a random internet search on the organisation all over again. Went to the loo. Sat in front of computer. Went to check for bits of food stuck between teeth in paranoiac twitch. Inadvertently connected with some random person on Skype. Don’t know how to undo that. As it got near to 10.00 a.m. UK time (4.00 p.m. Cambodia time) I wondered who was supposed to phone who. Just before 10.00 there was some random bleep on my laptop. I ignored it, probably nothing, and I’m supposed to be having a Skype interview. Just after 10.00, it dawned on me that probably I shouldn’t have ignored that mysterious bleep. Further investigation showed that the bleep was indeed a friendly ‘hi I’m here’ sort of message. Oh well, I acknowledged it only a couple of minutes late.
After the initial awkwardness of greeting – you can’t shake hands, what do you do wave? I went for earnest nodding and smiling like some demented dashboard dog. My interviewer, was clearly very comfortable using Skype. Unsurprising, I suppose he must interview volunteers and students all the time this way, but unexpectedly casual. He hadn’t worked at positioning his laptop so for most of the interview I got a close up view of his jaw line and stubbled neck. I found this reassuring and endearing more than anything. The important thing was what he had to say, and that was all fine and dandy. Highly competent, clearly professional, and student focussed. I gained the impression of someone who was absolutely passionate about his work and committed to recruiting a team of staff each term who can work together to deliver quality tuition to motivated students. It is he who wrote the text books now in use.
The interview itself was fine. Weird, but fine. I had expected to be asked some searching questions, but really it was more about the interviewer selling the project to me. Not in any heavy-handed way, more going through accountability; teacher support; child protection. I think perhaps because I’ve worked in Vietnam, albeit briefly, it was quickly apparent that I do have some understanding of what the challenges might be. I was asked what questions I had. I queried the curriculum and assessment methods, and I suppose on reflection asking those questions also demonstrates I’ve taught before. At CWF they are (rightly) proud of having developed materials that are relevant to students. At the most basic level this means for example learning the names of tropical fruits on sale in Cambodia rather than in an English market. This is a big relief. In Vietnam, I had the ludicrous experience of working with undergraduate students on a module on ‘work’ that (seriously) had jobs such as ‘dolphin trainer’ and ‘lumberjack’ as topics for discussion! I don’t know where to begin on how inappropriate and unhelpful that textbook series was. (And don’t get me started on the ethics of dolphins and orcas in captivity, but do watch Blackfish) I’m a bit worried about assessment as I’m a touchy feely formative rather than summative sort of assessor, but it was made to sound fairly low-key. The emphasis of the project is on conversation not grammar, so I am told I don’t need to worry about that, though there is an opportunity to brush up on it through discussion with other teachers if I wish.
About 40 minutes in I was asked if I had any other questions. I said ‘no, but I’m conscious you’ve not asked me any questions about my own approach’, this led to the only direct question of the interaction (as opposed to discussion). Hilariously, I can’t even remember now exactly how it was worded, but it was something along the lines of ‘give an example of when you’ve had to work with others from different perspectives to achieve a challenging goal‘. I talked about setting up the drop in sessions for students whilst in Vietnam. This was an easy way to bring in the importance of listening to alternative perspectives (in Vietnam the notion of individuals questioning teachers was quite alien, and the whole ‘drop-in’ concept entirely mysterious). It took trust, patience and negotiation on both sides, but was ultimately succesful. Blah de blah. It was actually quite good to respond to a ‘proper’ question as it reminds me that I have done stuff in the past so why shouldn’t I do it again. I didn’t feel as slick as in previous interviews, but it was all OK. The only really disconcerting thing was that my interviewer clearly hadn’t read the same ‘Preparing for a Skype job interview’ manual as me. As soon as he asked his question of me, he upped and left. I can only hope he was roaming the room housing his computer whilst in earshot of my response, but I was left gazing at an empty screen as I tried to give my lively and animated response.
Eventually he returned into view, and it was just practical stuff ‘do we have your police check?’, ‘where would you like to live?’ (independently). It seemed to end rather abruptly, and a bit awkwardly, it’s not like an in person interview where you can use body language like standing up and shaking hands to signal the end of it. Still, we only had a little ‘you first’ dance in saying goodbye, and I felt OK about it, surprisingly so. It was a positive experience, boosted my confidence, reminded me I do have a professional identity, albeit one that has been temporarily dormant.
To be honest, I think the fact that previously I’d asked questions, sent a pretty serious CV, corresponded with a current volunteer and sent police checks etc already, plus I have a fairly comprehensive LinkedIn profile, made the interview something of a formality. I suppose it would be immediately apparent if either one of us had been blagging it. I wonder a bit if the Skype interview is partly to check you are a native (or near native) English speaker as much as anything. Maybe it would have been more searching if I was younger or had less experience. Maybe they are just a bit desperate to get some volunteer teachers back on board after a blip in recruitment and delivery following recent ‘events, dear boy, events!’ Or maybe I’m just the best thing since sliced bread in terms of being someone to join their project. Well, wouldn’t that be nice! Except I’m not a bit fan of sliced bread to be honest, so I suppose I should be careful what I wish for…
I actually believe as well, that in some ways you just can’t really know in advance how it will work out with these opportunities. You make your best guess, and put precautions and checks in place, but ultimately it is always something of a leap of faith. For my part the interviewer conveyed real enthusiasm and professionalism. I felt quite excited about the opportunity for us to work together, and for the first time in ages enthused at the prospect of a new adventure.
The interview concluded with my interviewer basically saying it’s yours if you want it, and I said yep, but need to check logistics. So the next stage was that he’d send on some further information and we’d take it from there.
So in summary the Skype interview was nothing to worry about, and did boost my confidence and increase m enthusiasm for the opportunity… apart from giving me a massive dent in body confidence because I did look very much like a troll on camera. Oh well, it’s lucky it isn’t a beauty contest eh?
I think though this thing might actually happen. Blimey. It feels very unreal. It seems though that it is indeed in my power to keep calm and make it so!