A surreal experience and an interview – First published 5 December 2013

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Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning, or so they say, and the morning sky on 5 December 2013 certainly had more than a hint or red about it. As I ate my granola I watched it change from hint of pink to deep rose with a touch of purple in the clouds. The wether news was not good, storms and high winds were on the way and maybe a flood or two. Not quite what I’d hoped for on the day of my interview but those are the breaks I guess.

5 December 2013

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Outside it did seem a trifle windy. There were leaves blowing everywhere and the decking was a sheet of ice. Walking along the gravel path I was sheltered by the house and the walled garden and I spotted a single pink geranium that didn’t get the memo about winter. In the parks the leaves have all blown off the big mop head hydrangeas by the road and the few remaining flowers have turned to old parchment. The avenue of gold is now an avenue of twigs, the only gold around comes from the leaves on the ground. As I made my way through the parks leaves swirled all around me and the wind buffeted me.

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It isn’t every day your boss asks you to help her with her CV. In fact, not in my wildest dreams did I think it would happen to me but it did. When Arabella called me up to the mezzanine this morning I thought she wanted me to take dictation or go over some figures. What she actually wanted was some advice on CV writing. It’s been a long, long time since she had to write a CV and, just like me when my job at Mad House came to an end, she was feeling a little lost with all the changes in CV style that seem to have happened in recent years.

After I’d dashed back down to print off a copy of my own shiny new CV we set to work.
“I think you’ve seen my CV before,” I said, “after all, you employed me.”
“I remember being quite impressed by it,” she smiled.
That was good to know. I explained all about functional CV’s and reverse chronological CV’s and how to write achievement statements using the CAR method, challenge/problem, action/steps, results/benefits. I showed her some of my more recent ones.
“What about career history and qualifications,” she asked.
“On a functional CV like mine they are at the end, after the important stuff like what I can do,” I flipped over the page to show her. “After all, my qualifications are pretty outdated. GCE’s and A Levels, no one has even heard of them any more.”
“Greek Literature,” she pounced on one result. “I didn’t know you studied Greek Literature.”
“It was on my CV all the time,” I said, “you must have seen it before.”
“Actually, I think I remember now. The art and literature and those classics were what really interested me about you. I thought, if those were your interests, you’d fit right in with the work here.”
Well who’d have thought my useless classics and art based education would have been what got me a job?

We talked a little about what I’d studied, Pliny and Homer, Roman Civilisation, the Greek and Roman myths and legends. Then Arabella said, “when I’ve written my CV will you cast an eye over it?”
“Of course I will,” I said. “It’s the least I can do after all you’ve done for me.”

All too soon it was time to go off for my interview. Feeling very bourgeois, I ordered a taxi. The original plan had been to take one of the Uni Link busses but, when I saw the timetable, it turned out there was only one an hour and that arrived five minutes after the start of my interview. Even when I got to the campus it wasn’t plain sailing. Southampton university is massive, there are four campuses (or should that be campi?) spread over different parts of the city, I knew I had the right one but exactly where on it I needed to be wasn’t all that clear.

The email I’d been sent did provide a campus map, which was handy except that I wasn’t sure where I was to start with. Thankfully I had plenty of time so I set off in what I thought was the right direction and hoped. Pretty soon I was sure I wasn’t walking in the direction I thought I was, peering at the numbers on the buildings and squinting at the map trying to find them it soon became obvious I’d been walking completely the wrong way. In the end I stopped one of the hoards of students milling about and asked. Luckily he knew exactly where I needed to go and I set off again, armed now with my bearings and a very comprehensive set of directions.

I’ve walked this way a few times, back in March I even took some photos of the Uni buildings, but I still don’t really know it all that well. When I found the correct building I was pretty relieved, but I was still way too early, what a surprise eh? The building in question is right next to the common, there’s even a little cut way beside it leading through to one of the woodland trails. Obviously I had to go and have a look.

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This is a path I’ve walked before on one of my long walks so I had a good idea where it led. Sadly there was no time to go too far but I couldn’t help thinking how great it would be to walk there in my lunch hour. The prospect of this job was looking better and better. A little way along the trail I noticed something a little odd about the trunk of a holly tree so I moved in for a closer look. It was a gall, a little high in the tree for a shorty like me to get a good photo but interesting nonetheless. The rest of the tree seemed quite healthy so it doesn’t seem to be doing any harm but I did wonder what had caused it.

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Further along there was something even stranger on another tree. It looked like someone had stuck a load of pitta bread to the trunk but I was pretty sure it was actually some kind of fungus. A closer look proved me right, it’s some kind of shelf fungus, I’m pretty sure Alan in New Hampshire will know exactly which one, and it was really quite large. I’m just going to call it pitta bread fungus for now. What a find!

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This unusual fungus wasn’t the only find of the afternoon either. Just after I’d turned back towards the University I happened to be looking at the fallen leaves just off the trail and, amongst them, there was a red brown fungus. I think it was some kind of milk cap, but which one I’m not entirely sure, it was almost covered with oak leaves from the trees above. Seeing such interesting things in such a short time made me want the job even more, imagine how many things I could see if I was walking through these woods every day?

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There was no time to look for more though because I had an interview to go to so I strolled slowly back to the University building and went inside. I had to wait a little while at the reception desk because the receptionist was having a conversation with his colleague and didn’t see me at first. Normally I might have coughed or said excuse me but these could be the people I’d be working with so I didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot. Eventually he noticed me and I smiled brightly and introduced myself. He took a copy of my passport as proof I’m not an illegal immigrant and gave me a form to fill out. Then I had to sit and wait.

There were lots of students in reception, some going up to the desk to collect forms, others sitting at a table discussing course work. I felt slightly out of place in my black suit and white shirt. Eventually a large, jolly looking man came out and shook my hand, introducing himself as David (not his real name in case you’re wondering). We chatted as we walked to the interview room, he seemed very jovial and I immediately felt at ease. When I told him I’d been walking in the woods to kill time he said, “you want to watch that, you’ll be getting a reputation,” and laughed. I liked him.

In the interview room there were two women. They invited me to sit and introduced themselves, within seconds I’d forgotten their names. Everyone was very cheery, which is just what I like in a workplace.  The more senior, blonde lady, who I’m going to call Mel because she reminds me of someone I know, explained the interview process. There would to be no bells and whistles, no fancy tricks, just a good old fashioned interview. I breathed a sigh of relief. Each of the three would ask me a few questions and give me a simple scenario to look at. All I had to do was answer the questions and say how I’d deal with the situation on each slip of paper.

The only question I remember now was “what do you think is important for good customer service?” As I’m pretty passionate about customer service that felt like an easy one, although it remains to be seen whether my answer was what they wanted to hear. The scenarios were all about students being upset because they didn’t get the marks they wanted or students handing in paperwork late. Hopefully I gave the right answers, hopefully I made a good impression.

Turns out the job wasn’t quite what it said on the tin (or in this case in the advert) and Mel apologised that it was slightly misleading. Apparently the HR department are not too good at wording adverts. It’s actually more of a reception job with admin work included rather than a straight admin job. Even so I really would like to get it. The happy atmosphere sold it to me right off and I know I could do it. Better still it’s term time only! Imagine a whole summer off! Ok so that is reflected in the pay, which would mean a bit of a cut, but, hey ho, you can’t have everything right?

When it was my turn to ask the questions my research last night came in very handy. Actually, my research last night may have been quite comical had anyone been there to see it. Using the book I was given when the Mad House closed, I went through all the main interview questions answering them out loud as if I was really being interviewed. There was a moment when I wondered what CJ would make of it if he came in and caught me but, luckily, he didn’t. I also wrote out some questions to ask, again using the book.

One of my questions was, “do you feel I have any skills gaps for this post?”
The answer was “not really’ except that you’re not familiar with university life or our computer systems but we would train you on that.”
That was my cue to get out my portfolio, just to show how computer literate I am. The portfolio consisted of print outs of all my spreadsheet and budget plans. Mel took a good look and seemed very impressed, especially when I talked about all the different systems I had to learn to work at the Mad House.
“I can see you’re very computer literate,” she said, “which is a good thing.”

I also explained that most of the classical musicians I work with now have just graduated from places like the Royal College of Music so I’m used to dealing with graduates, their lack of organisation and their dramas. This seemed to go down quite well too, “sounds like you’d be well equipped to deal with our students then,” Mel said.

On the way out, David was still very chatty which I’m taking as a good sign. I told him what a great opportunity I thought it was and asked how long he thought it would be until a decision was made. Apparently I should know within a week. “We won’t keep you on tenterhooks too long,” he smiled. Now I’m going to have to keep my fingers crossed until I hear because I really would like this job. Typing is going to be difficult so please forgive any spelling mistakes!

As buses seem to be a bit thin on the ground and I wasn’t sure when the next one would be or exactly where it would take me, I decided to walk home. I’m going to gloss over the fact that I took a wrong turn and ended up slightly lost for a while. Obviously that almost never happens to me. I did get to walk along the river from Woodmill though. It may not have been the quickest route home but, if I get the job, I could see it becoming one of my regular walks to work.

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As I walked towards the Triangle the sun was just beginning to get low in the sky. The clouds had taken on a kind of layered look and the sky was filled with seagulls. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could have this view every day? Hopefully the red sky this morning didn’t presage disaster.

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Marie

Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

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