Platitudes, rather hippy dippy and old hat, short sugar-coated sentences designed to bolster the ‘feels’ of a younger generation. Look again. Each line creates an emotion, a memory jog, that tingle of happiness to the down-surge of sadness. Regret is there, the wince for things done wrong, then the smile for laughing out loud when you get it right. Basic universal rules for living.
Between jobs, I once had the misfortune of attending two group interviews. Both for a permanent part-time position. Let me tell you about the first one. I was pleased to be called in and keen to get the ball rolling until after an hour I realised the whole process was degenerating into tedious insincerity.
Fellow jobseekers and I played mind games with shapes and symbols, wrote clues on butcher’s paper and on each other’s backs (with our finger) and sat down to interview the ‘buddy’ seated next to us. We then introduced each other to the selection panel which was a trick because what was told to us privately was then asked to be broadcast across the room. And, most outlandish of all, we formed groups to invent a new company motto and present it. Then we were gathered into teams to construct a workable bridge from scrap pieces. During discussion time, one person endeavoured to take control of our group, effectively making it a one-woman show. Another broke away from his group to talk to me separately so I’m sure that would have been a black mark against him.
Most applicants ‘talked the talk’ although whether they actually meant it or not remains to be seen. The extroverts did their best to outshine the other applicants with their superior customer service line but when pressed, many hadn’t even checked the company website. Basically everyone was mouthing the same tired old phrases about equality, fairness, safety, courtesy, teamwork and how good they would perform in the job. Lines which they had obviously rehearsed at home. Which in itself is good but it wears everyone down, especially when juniors kept referring to their notes.
By the time my five minute one-on-one interview took place, over three hours later, I was lacklustre. The questions asked were the same as those I had already addressed in my selection criteria which tended to make me more repetitive than I should have been for such an important occasion. My past experience and references were scrutinised without a word.
I tried to pull my thoughts together and keep a glazed look out of my eyes but regrettably enthusiasm had started to wane. It appeared to me that the HR department was trying to justify its own position within the company by orchestrating an overly long interview process and my respect for its staffers dwindled during that period. It was held at an awkward time of day too, so I left the interview feeling hungry which did not help my mood. For those nervous yet bored candidates waiting to be called, surely a beverage wouldn’t have been too much to ask? At the end of this interview process, we were instructed to leave by the side door. I hoped the other applicants were more upbeat than me, or at least better actors.
Another point which I found interesting was the amount of young first-job attendees who wore jeans and casual tops. In a job where presentation is important, I failed to understand their choice of clothing. Especially considering there were 75 applicants, hand-picked from hundreds, for only 25 job vacancies. Apart from a good resumé, I think your eagerness to get a job should include upping your appearance.
A considerable length of time, and another job, has passed since then and I still have not been informed of the outcome. I seriously question the usefulness of such a long drawn-out exercise. ‘You either got it or you aint’ and I think a good personnel department should see that a mile off without all the frills.
It is going to be an uncomfortable meeting. The aluminum-lined tin roof of the old scout hut has Christmas lights still hanging from the beams but no ceiling fans. In the slowly increasing heat, city council employees stand around fanning themselves with official paperwork, sweat running into the collars of their creased jackets.
A gathering of various ages and nationalities, husbands, wives, old friends milling about, young children already fidgeting, and teenagers comparing notes about being awake so early on a Saturday. And me, taking notes for a writing class.
My brief: Go to an unusual place and observe people and surroundings then write about it.
I tread the worn linoleum flooring, past bare walls, seeking a vacant chair. Instead being lured by chilled water jugs, beaded with droplets. The moisture runs onto trestle tables covered with plastic cloths and neatly stacked glassware. On a corner table, ignored, a tea urn, china cups and sugar. “Too hot for a cuppa,” hisses a woman “but a biscuit would be nice.” No such luck, it looks like it will be all business.
I chose this council meeting, billed as a Community Centre Public Consultation, hoping for a good cross-section of individuals. The focus is an old disused council depot just up the street from the scout hall which is ripe for redevelopment. Possibly a venue for arts and crafts, retired folk or out-of-work men with carpentry skills. Doesn’t sound too threatening but you never know with hot tempers and hotter weather.
There are not enough white plastic chairs so a frantic search gets underway to find more seats for late arrivals. By now, attendance hovers around 45 humidity-affected people. Craggy old veterans, highly-perfumed women, groups in casual shirts and shorts, retired types perhaps looking forward to the proposed construction. One woman commands attention with a loud voice, passionate about protecting her home from noise and extra traffic. A male voice tells her “It hasn’t started yet so shut up.”
Registration sheets are handed around and duly completed, information leaflets handed out, a welcome speech, introductions all round and the meeting starts. The Councillor and various council departments take turns talking about the proposed community centre site and how it will benefit the general public. A white board and black pens are used to draw proposed plans, stressing that existing trees will remain and more planted.
I put my reading glasses on as a slide presentation illuminates but some gruff local residents butt in with irrelevant queries. A young, flushed council assistant is hassled by senior homeowners out to protect their land values, citing added burdens on the already strained infrastructure. “Traffic is bad enough now, this street can’t cope with extra cars.” And “If an event was on, numbers would treble and we couldn’t get out of our driveways!” There is a smattering of applause and a red-faced toddler starts to cry.
The Councillor is getting agitated, stern faced and unhappy about these interruptions to her pet project. She rises, retorts in a firm, concise manner “Questions and answers will be held at the end of this session. Please refrain from interrupting” then she sits down and furiously scribbles a note.
Feeling overheated and drowsy as the meeting drags on, I’m shaken from my lethargy by an unusual break in the proceedings. Oh dear. A plus-size young lady on a wobbly plastic chair is starting to slip. Slowly, her chair sinks as the legs buckle and she gracefully slides to the floor. Plop! The Council officials gasp as one. Embarrassed, she rolls over and stands up. Everyone is fussing, offering her sympathy and cold water. The weakened chair is quickly replaced and a sturdier one supplied.
More words, blurring in, old ground is covered then comes audience input time. An outpouring of emotion from local residents, more fervent than factual, practical comments are overruled by zealous objections. Limp council staff organise the tables and chairs into groups and hand out sheets of butcher’s paper and pens for the audience to scrawl down comments about traffic, parking issues and the type of structure they would like to see near their homes. I don’t attempt a drawing, unlike the person next to me who is lavishly embellishing a castle-like structure. Hardly acceptable but she is about six years old. My hand melts the thin paper and the felt-tip pen smudges as I write a couple of comments.
The Councillor stands, looking strained, and addresses the gathering with a formal thank-you. Her politeness is wasted. It’s time to go and already people are moving towards the rear doors. Outside the air is heavy with the smell of eucalyptus. I fold my notes, not looking forward to my hot car and a long drive home.
AFTERWORD: Jump ahead in time, eight years to be precise, and the derelict sheds are revitalised and re-purposed into a community centre, a thriving hub for group activities. Men’s Shed displays are held yearly, artisans can be commissioned for special projects. The perceived threat to peace and tranquility did not materialise due to sensible planning and a carpark. Feathers were hardly ruffled … unlike the storm brewing over old homes being demolished and their sites redeveloped for high density box-like dwellings. Now that really will affect their suburban infrastructure …