Last weekend my husband and I started to watch Ted Lasso and as soon as the character Ted sets up their new home in Richmond, it reminded me of one of my worst job interviews because I’m pretty sure I cried in front of Ted’s local.
Let’s start from their (the interviewers) perspective. Here is what happened: this nice woman got through the first conversations and seemed okay enough to be sent a coding exercise to do at home. She sent back her exercise which wasn’t finished so they decided to have an in-person interview to go through it. A date and a time were suggested but never confirmed however she turned up anyway and then froze and couldn’t finish the coding exercise.
This is deeply embarrassing and I am still mortified that this will forever be the reflection of me in their eyes.
Now here’s what happened from my perspective: I was really happy at my job at the time until a snowball of events unrelated to me or the team I was in happened. Then a new manager was hired. This manager had control issues and quickly started to question all the team. This included doubting that people were absent for known medical issues (which wasn’t an issue before) to banning casual work from home without a justification that they deemed acceptable. Our team environment was severely impacted and people started to quit and the ones that remained were miserable. But the moment that I knew that I needed to leave was when he jokingly asked me in front of my teammates if I was thinking of getting pregnant while noting that it would be inconvenient for our future product release.
Needless to say, I was in a rush to get a new job. I couldn’t sleep and I started to completely forget about plans I made outside work hours. With everyone else quitting or some taking time off, I found myself alone managing contractors in a strange work environment where you could cut the tension with a knife. By the time this prospect company sent me the code challenge, my mental health had severely declined. I was also following people’s advice: do not tell the real reasons you’re leaving your job. The coding challenge was timed for two hours and I don’t actually remember it. I don’t remember doing it. I was crying while trying to do it. By the time the two hours were hit, I gave up. So I sent what I had done (which wasn’t enough at all), apologised and moved on.
A few days later they got back to me and suggested a day and time. Unfortunately, their office was in Richmond, which is on the other end of London. This meant that either I had to leave work early and risk getting transportation issues getting there because of rush hour or I could work from home (at the time I was living in Fulham) and I could work all day and leave after work and only take half an hour to get there. My heart was racing because it meant I had to ask this manager permission for either of these options. I replied to the email saying that it worked for me and I put in a request with my manager to leave work a little bit earlier. I was questioned a lot about it and it was incredibly stressful since a white lie was involved.
It’s the day of it and I prepare to make my way to Richmond. As I am leaving, I text my now husband to let him know and he says “oh, you didn’t tell me they had confirmed it”. My heart sank. I opened my email app. They never confirmed it. I never got a reply to that email. While in the tube, I went through all the scenarios in my head. I overthought everything and I was deeply ashamed. I tried to tell myself “maybe all will be okay and I am overthinking this”. Until I got there and they weren’t expecting me.
I wanted to hide forever. I thought “oh my god - these people have my full name and my Twitter handle… they now know how much I suck”. They were incredibly polite and welcomed me in. I’m sure I ruined their evening plans and I apologised. In the back of my head, I had another running task: “what other excuse can I come up with to tell my manager if this gets postponed?”. I held my tears and we sat in the room. We talked about how my exercise wasn’t finished and I said: “well.. That’s what I did in two hours”. What they didn’t know is that that’s what I did in two hours while having a breakdown. One of them mentioned how it is interesting because most people would lie about it. I tried to convince myself that was one small point in my favour. He then suggested “how about we finish it now together?” and I agreed. Except that I didn’t. I was bottling up all the tears and shame of my blunder, the build-up inside my head of even imagining having to ask my then manager to be excused and how I was mentally and emotionally drained from my current job. I don’t remember what happened next. I don’t remember what I told them. I just know we wrapped up and they left with the idea that I was really bad at coding.
I left their office and walked towards the park that is shown in the Ted Lasso series and I cried a lot. In the next few days, they followed up via email obviously explaining that I wasn’t on their top list but there was nothing but kindness from their end.
This interview still haunts me. I struggle a lot when I fail at something, especially when I fail “in public”. The idea of someone knowing that I didn't do something well breaks me but this was one of the very times in my life that I immediately forgave myself and treated myself with kindness.
Either way, I don't do well in interviews. The last time I went on another job hunt, I also failed at a few of them. I particularly dislike doing any code in front of others as so rarely I build projects/exercises from scratch. And guess what? So far I’ve always been employed.
If there’s any lesson from this story, I’d say: don’t start job hunting when it’s officially really bad. Trust your instinct and begin leaving before you get desperate. Although I don’t regret the path I ended up taking because I’m pretty happy now, I regret that I sacrificed my mental health at the time and now have bad memories because I left it too late to leave a job that was making me miserable.