ALL BETS AGAINST ME
I am sitting in the reception hall with my stomach tied in knots. I am the only person here, so mine must be the last interview of the day. I have no clue who else they might still be considering for this position, but I can’t help but feel like an aspiring actress on her first call-back audition — going up against Angelina Jolie.
It is a warm and sunny Sunday, and it’s only been a few hours since I received the unexpected invitation to this impromptu interview. On a Sunday?
“Yes, I know this is rather spontaneous,” the Director of Operations had explained to me over the phone. “We deeply regret the inconvenience to you Miss, but our CEO is only in town for one night and has asked to meet with you in person.”
I fell silent for a moment. Me. Meeting. CEO. What was happening here? I thought that this vacancy had been filled months ago.
For a moment, my mind wandered off to that first interview I had had, but I brought myself back quickly to respond to the voice waiting on the other line.
“Uhm, yeah, I guess I can make it,” I replied nervously.
“Well how long will it take for you to get here?” he asked. I could sense that he probably wasn’t too thrilled to be working today.
“An hour. No. Two hours,” I said.
“Great then, we will see you at three o’clock.”
It is only a few minutes after two o’clock when I arrive at the head office of LPW Pharmaceuticals. I set off early — perhaps too early — as I was cautiously trying to account for the unpredictability of public transportation on a Sunday afternoon.
My first interview with LPW had not gone quite as well as I had hoped it would. This is why receiving a call-back three months later was so shocking. It meant they were actually still considering me for a highly coveted managerial position as Head of Regulatory Affairs of a leading pharmaceutical industry.
I am so nervous. I try to calm myself as I wait by thinking of random things. My laundry, my missing umbrella, gas prices — anything to distract me, but every thought leads back to the possibility of failing.
I am acutely aware of the situation. I am young and inexperienced. I have a lot of ambition, but the truth is I have only been in the pharmaceutical world for a minute, and not in any way that would be relevant to this position. I worked briefly as a research assistant for a professor of mine before I graduated, and later as an intern at a regional hospital, what could I possibly know about large-scale pharmaceutical production?
Most pharmacists work towards a position like this for half their careers. The ink on my bachelor’s degree is barely dry — there’s no way they would seriously give me a shot at this job.
I am trying desperately to subdue my doubts. But my mind keeps replaying my first interview. I was even more nervous then than today. I must have had at least six or seven cups of coffee while I waited, and I am normally not a coffee drinker at all.
The initial pleasantries had gone over well. There was lighthearted talk about my unusual name, my semblance to one of the director’s daughters, and the traffic that morning.
The Head of Human Resources then got the interview rolling with questions about my motivation and purpose. He asked me to expound on some of my skills and my suitability for this role. He went over a few more standard interview questions, allowed me to respond and nodded reassuringly.
The rest of the panel was much less encouraging. From the word go, I was swamped with misleading technical questions and complex hypothetical situations. They came at me relentlessly, challenging each and everyone of my responses, interjecting before I could even complete my sentences and doubling down with patronizing smiles.
By the end of the interview, I was left completely disheartened and overridden with self-doubt. Maybe I wasn’t ready for this. I had walked into this place as eager as a baby falcon attempting to take its maiden flight, only to be told I was a duck — and ducks don’t fly.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting to hit the ball out of the park. But I had hoped at least I would hold my own by displaying exceptional acumen in lieu of my inexperience.
“Sorry to keep you waiting. We are ready for you now.” The director with whom I had spoken earlier announces.
The panel is exactly as it was during my first interview, except for the addition of the CEO. The pleasantries are kept much shorter this time as we are all eager to get on with the rest of our Sunday.
“So, what have you been up to since your last interview?” the CEO asks.
“Well, I have continued with my current job as a clinical pharmacist. I am still attending to patients at the regional hospital during the day, and I routinely work as a locum at a nearby clinic in the evenings.” I pause momentarily. I sense the mood is different this time. The panel seems more attentive, less dismissive. It must be the Sunday lethargy — but I will take it anyway. “I have also been brushing up on my knowledge of formulations and production. Last time you asked me about handling out-of-specifications when there is no perceivable cause. I think the best approach to this would be…”
I give a short soliloquy that is met with several follow up questions. They hinted at some specific real-life examples they had encountered in the past, and I responded imaginatively. We went back and forth on some arguments, but I was not being challenged as harshly as I was the previous time. I was not being interrupted or patronizingly silenced either.
The interview lasted about an hour before I was asked to step out for a few minutes. My heart was racing as I left. Could they really be deliberating my final fate right now?
My thoughts return once more to my last interview and how it had ended.
They had told me that while they appreciated my enthusiasm, they feared that I wasn’t quite ready for the job. They had said that I seemed able and determined and that they wished there was a lower level position they could offer me, but unfortunately this specific role required much more experience than I had to bring to the table. They had told me that I was smart and ambitious, and that I surely had a promising future ahead, but this wasn’t the right time for me. They had told me not to feel discouraged, to learn more, remain persistent, and keep pursuing this.
Three months ago, I had been fed every possible euphemism for “you are not good enough” by the very same people that went on to hire me that day.
I had had a good second interview, but there were also a few other circumstances that had led to this decision. I learned much later on that their initial first choice had been well qualified, but was rather difficult to work with, and had too many demands. I also learned that the decision to hire me was far from unanimous, but the company was pressed for time to fill the vacancy and the CEO had made the final call.
Regardless of what put me there; I was grateful for the opportunity, and I worked tirelessly over the next three years to avert any second-guessing that I was the right person for the job.
I don’t particularly revel in the memory of my embarrassing first effort. I also understand that I was probably only a second, third, or even fourth choice for the position I was offered. Notwithstanding, I did an incredible job while I was at LPW. I accomplished so much more than I ever imagined I could.
Three years into my role, I turned in my notice when I made the difficult decision to pursue another passion that was dear to me — a career in global health. I waited with baited breath for a response that I feared would not be so kind. It was the most humbling feeling in the world when, a day later, I opened a mass email from the CEO in which he described me as an “unfortunate loss to the company.”
I may have come young. I may have come inexperienced. But as it turns out, you can do your best work when people bet against you.