“y” i probably won’t get the new job

I had a job interview today with another agency. I was pretty confident walking in, not too nervous–generally a very competent and comfortable interviewee, I typically find it even easier and less stressful when, as in this case, I have the luxury of not strictly needing the job for which I’m interviewing–and thought I was well-qualified, an excellent fit, and reasonably prepared, albeit I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t spend the extra time in preparation this past weekend I might have, and that I had intended.

It was the worst interview performance of my entire life.

It wasn’t just bad, it was embarrassingly and stultifyingly bad. During the interview, I kept wondering if I should just apologize for wasting their time, bow out and cut all our losses. Afterward, I spent lunch and the subway ride back to work feeling genuinely sorry for the hour of their lives those four interviewers would never get back, and thinking wistfully of the two hours of annual leave I’d spent to cover the time away from the office.

On a personal level, I think they found me likable and engaging enough, and I quite liked them. And trying to be as objective as possible, I believe I’d be a really great fit for the position and for the organization, and that it would provide me a challenging learning experience for me and them a valuable addition to their team.

But I choked. I don’t think it was entirely my fault–the position description notes that the incumbent will be responsible primarily for expertise in high-level function X, in an office that also engages in separate (though highly interrelated, to be sure) high-level function Y, but practically their entire line of questioning went to my experience with, technical knowledge of, philosophy about, and recommendations for implementing Y instead of the expected X. I just wasn’t able to shift mental gears smoothly or quickly enough. The real tragedy is that while I know X inside and out, I’ve also had plenty of experience managing Y–as part of a specialized task force at another organization I co-authored a 20-chapter report about it some years ago, and have been responsible for developing and implementing Y at other organizations since. It’s not something I’ve done in the past two years in my current position, and I hadn’t expected it to dominate the questions, and I was about as far as possible from fresh or convincing. But I was aware from my research that Y was part of the office’s responsibilities more generally, so I definitely should have been better prepared to discuss it intelligently.

Who knows? Maybe it actually didn’t go as badly as I thought–years ago I had a day-long series of interviews at a company in Seattle, beginning at 7 in the morning on a spring day in which a freak East Coast Blizzard kept me grounded until very late, such that I arrived in Seattle and at my hotel at 4am (already 7am according to my internal clock). I was so numb I couldn’t even remember what I said or did that whole day, and collapsed at 4:30pm certain that the day had been an unmitigated disaster–then two days later they called and offered me the job (I didn’t accept it, for unrelated reasons).

And I was the first person interviewed for this new position–which at least lets me manufacture and maintain the comfortable fiction that on paper, at least, they had found me the best-qualified and wanted to schedule me first–so maybe time, conversations with subsequent candidates, and the natural defense mechanisms of the human mind will cause them to block out the more horrible aspects of today’s experience.

Otherwise I’ll have to change my name and enter a brand-new career field at the very bottom and preferably in another country, in order to avoid the shame and embarrassment of someday potentially running into one of these interviewers on a cross-agency task force or in a DC restaurant.