I’ve had a few responses on twitter and interest about my article in last week’s Daily Mail about being offered a job in 2009 and then abruptly having the offer withdrawn because I failed a psychometric test and was judged too “emotionally unstable” to work there. Something else kept it in my head too – the recent launch of a campaign by the Health Service Executive and Taoiseach Enda Kenny called #littlethings. This campaign encourages people to talk about the “little things” they do to safeguard their mental health and bring themselves joy. A thoughtful idea with some great advertising by Una-Minh Caomhanach whose work I respect (my computer has lost fadas, sorry!) and I’d love to join in, but as Matthew Mulligan has noted in Trinity News, such campaigns are once again placing the responsibility for a collective failure of empathy right back onto individuals, without making sure the helping mechanisms are working. The implication from our Head of State is that we primarily are responsible for our own mental wellbeing when our mental health is under threat.
I was not responsible for having a job offered to me, and then the offer taken away after three interviews, in the middle of the deepest recession in history. I was not responsible for being told the following:
But when I returned to the terraced office for a follow-up meeting, the director’s attitude towards me had done a 180. This time he snarled at me with open contempt, drawing a line on a piece of paper and jabbing at it with his finger. “See the middle of that line? You should be here. Instead,” and he put an asterisk on the far right, “you are there. Now I can get you back in the middle, but you have to do the work. It’s up to you.”
I am not responsible for maintaining my mental health in an environment that is prejudiced against my existence. How can I be? I am not responsible for failing to measure up to a culture which thinks I am not in the middle enough. I am not responsible for other people’s stigma. I am only responsible for myself, for keeping a roof over my head, and fulfilling my artistic goals. Going by the reviews, I don’t think I’ve done too badly. But it was not all smooth sailing, personally.
So what is the #littlething that sustains me when my soundness of mind is threatened? It’s to remember that none of this was my fault and that I’m not obliged to do anything differently as a result of these people. They’re, frankly, wrong. My only fear is that when I had my brush with discrimination, I was no spring chicken, and had a very marketable skill. I knew my own worth. When I think of vulnerable young people being taken advantage of in similar manner – oh here’s that WWI thing again – and then told to think about the #littlethings rather than the #bigthings like stigma which hurts them – my blood starts simmering.
Here’s the full article below the cut:
6 thoughts on “To Return to That Daily Mail Article”
I feel like I should offer sympathy but actually want to congratulate you on your published article, your book, and your escape from working with people who weren’t right for you.
This post rang some bells for me. I once attended an interview where I arrived on time, dressed professionally, with the right qualifications. I smiled and said hello, and was ushered into a windowless room and left there for 45 minutes. When they re-entered, there was no apology, nor offer of coffee — just, “Oh, are you still here?” and a form shoved in, “this must be for you.” Some time later, another person came in, said, “Can you fill it in, please?” and left again.
It was a psychometric test. I filled it in. Someone came and took it away, then I was left alone for another 30 minutes before being called out for an interview in which they were only interested in talking about the psychometric test.
“Your results,” they said, “are interesting. They seem to show that you don’t care what people think of you.”
“No,” I said, “I love working with people and care a great deal about their opinions. I just don’t care what you think of me.” And I left. I went on to secure an almost identical job with an almost identical group — but one who served coffee and smiled at people.
I’ve always been grateful that the first interview went that way; without that test, I might have ended up working for some very unprofessional, uncaring people, without coffee. Psychometric tests can tell the interviewee as much as they tell the interviewer.
They just *left* you there for three quarters of an hour? What sort of arrogant nitwits are these people? What were they hiring for, exactly? And these are the people who judge themselves worthy of providing a complete psychiatric evaluation of you based on some questions on a piece of paper.
I’m having a Captain Haddock moment when somebody’s nicked his whiskey, billions of blue blistering barnacles.
Oh yes, congratulations are perfectly in order and appreciated. I don’t feel upset about that experience at all. I was bloody annoyed at the time though because of being strung along and really wanting a job, the b*st*ards…
Tu, that was an awesome response! And obviously it was their loss ultimately but imagine if that had been some young job seeker without your cojones…
Hiya, thanks! I think children should be taught in school (and maybe it is now) that they won’t enjoy every job, or interview — but that doesn’t mean there’s a problem, and the experience can be valuable either way. It’s too easy to see a bad interview as a “fail”, when people can simply be incompatible, inexperienced or insecure, or just have “off days”. And kids should also be taught that if they join a place with an unfriendly or unprofessional culture, they can work to improve it, or leave on their own terms, but again neither has to be seen as a failure — they’re just choices. It’s very easy to fire off an emotional response, but that kind of reaction has faded, for me, with age. If I had that interview again, I’d engage with the test, have a calm interview, and make my decisions from a position of greater power/choice. Experience, eh… Then again, I’m still glad I didn’t work there.
Psychometric tests are for people who have no idea how to interview.
Interviewing is a skill which is rarely taught and is 100% a people skill. How, in God’s name can a multiple choice questionnaire tell anyone how you’re going to interact with other people. It might give an indication how you interact with automatons but all you’re doing is hiring the same box ticker you hired before. And that is not what I call team building
When I interview I talk to the person because I’m genuinely interested in them as people and I can tell far more about their potential by their non verbal responses than anything their CV says.
Susan I have no doubt you’re as wonderful as you always were and I would have no hesitation in recommending you for any position. You are the intellectual yardstick every aspiring candidate could be measured by.
Yes, I hired Susan once upon a time and I was totally thrilled with my decision.
Aw, this is brilliant! Ironic that this post is turning out to be an excellent job reference, thank you Maurice 🙂
I agree with you about such tests, which are supposed to measure the social empathy of the interviewee, only serve to highlight the lack of same in the interviewer. This whole process is more ironic than an Alanis Morrissette song, which ironically contains no irony at all…
What I really want to do is say to people at the start of their career, people who haven’t been around long enough in the workplace to develop the necessary immunity to this sort of nonsense, is that you should NEVER be ashamed of your own disposition, or “humour”, as they used to call it. And that littlethings aren’t enough, because if you’re not a phlegmatic spirit, stigma hates you, and stigma doesn’t care about the littlethings, and it won’t play nice, and the littlethings won’t protect you. You have to go in armed and ready.