Interviews and Anxiety

This past year has been fairly traumatic.  I know others have it much, much worse, but I say “traumatic” because I can tell it has profoundly changed me.

One of the ways it has affected me is the way I handle stress.

Now, stress and anxiety have always been difficult for me, but not impossible.  I used to have a really hard time in group settings or when I felt like too much was expected of me.  I would shut down.  In college, I got better.  Much better.  I became social.  I became “the one with the car” among my friends even though it was crazy L.A. traffic and I was a smalltown girl.  I was not fearless; I was always cautious.  But risk-taking (note: not thrill-seeking!) was something I did and excelled at.  As beat down as I was sometimes, I truly believed that if I wanted to do something, I would do it!

I wish I could go back to that.

My interview yesterday was one of the most frightening things I’ve done in a long time.  It was a very high-stress situation, and with my nerves shattered for the past year (and getting worse over the past few months), my response was very unhealthy.  Over the past week, I actually made myself sick worrying over it.  I had nausea, headaches, and stomach pain for days.  Tuesday night, my husband came home from work at 12:30 (he works nights) and I was still wide-eyed in bed.  I spent the remaining 6 hours allotted to sleep tossing and turning with terrible nightmares all centred on this stupid interview.

I have never had such a bad experience with an interview before in my life!

I have always felt anxiety over an interview, but just a bit of gut-turning adrenaline as I walk into the interview room and make first impressions.  But this was not that.

I think part of my stress was this was a high-stakes job.  I had a lot to gain and a lot to lose.  A lot of staff have shifted around in our library system, and a full time supervisor job opened up.  This was something I would like–working with the public, working with cash deposits like I am now in accounting, promoting all the things I love and have loved about our community’s library system that has served my needs my whole life.

There is one girl that works there that I knew would be better in the position; she and I went to high school together, but instead of going to a 4-year college, she started working at the library right after graduation and got her AA.  This job only requires an AA, not a bachelor’s.  I have a bachelor’s.  However, I should note that not only has she worked at this library for 7 years, but she knows everything about everything!  She trained me.  She’s a wealth of knowledge and information.  She knows how every resource the library has works and what it’s good for.  She’s read a little of every subject (so have I, but she’s more well-read in children’s at the moment).  She and I would good-naturedly compete with who could get which new book from technical services first–before it even hit circulation.  She usually won.

If she’d actually gone on to get her master’s and became a true librarian, she would fit the bill exactly.  She does nothing but read, craft, and devise new ways to do things better.  I haven’t confirmed she has any friends outside of work, or if she even spends time with friends from work outside of work…

However, she doesn’t like the politics of the library (who does though, really?  it can be a massive headache and more!), and a class III supervisor wasn’t her cup of tea.  When asked, she reassured my co-workers in accounting that, no, she was not interested in applying for that job.  These ladies, who are always looking out for what is best for others, immediately told me I should apply.  I did–and I didn’t need their coaxing either!  This was a good-paying job (considering most library jobs are minimum wage or a dollar above), full benefits.

needed this job, but more than that, I wanted it.

It was scary applying, though.  The past year of history I’ve had with this employer has been beyond rough.  However, the assistant branch manager who made my life hell through it no longer works there; she made up a story about how she was moving cross-country to be with her twice-her-age boyfriend and quit.  Rumours at a recent library conference revealed she was severely reprimanded for her abuse of power/bullying to me and to some others, on a lesser level, and opted to leave while she still had a chance to maintain good terms.  I know she made up the moving story because I saw her today and she “moved” two months ago.  In her absence, circulation desk has never been better.

As far as I know, this history was never brought into this interview.  It still scared me stiff.

One of my fears, however, was realised right away.  The day after I applied, the HR lady e-mailed me, on my work e-mail, to set up an interview.

She copied my supervisor.

I was so mad, I could’ve screamed.

My current supervisor, in accounting, has some complex about being abandoned or something.  Or not being in control of her employees’ lives.  I don’t think she’s nearly the monster some folks who have worked in accounting have made her out to be, but she isn’t someone you trust with your hopes and dreams.  The line between supervisor/employee must be clearly drawn.  In the three years she has worked there, she has had at least 12 people work in her department that has 4 slots.  One lady who works there currently has been there 2 1/2 years.  She has lasted longer than anyone else by a long shot.  So the supervisor almost has a right to be paranoid that her staff like to leave her department.  I wanted to spare her the confusion and also spare myself any retaliation that I applied for a job elsewhere in the library–which is where most of her former employees now work.

Instead, she was notified, and this was just days before my performance evaluation.  In my performance evaluation, she indicated, “In the future, I need you to inform me when you apply for other jobs.  Obviously you applying for other jobs makes me feel like you’re not happy here.”  I was aghast at this.  I apply for jobs on a regular basis.  I am basically the sole provider for my family at the moment and soon my husband won’t be able to work at all since he’ll be student teaching (then maybe he can get a real job!).  I would certainly not tell her I was actively applying for jobs.  Working a motley assortment of jobs worked for me during college and right after, but it is exhausting now.

So I told the supervisor that I felt applying for jobs and having interviews was a personal matter to me.  “I feel like it would be on par with asking you if it would be convenient for me to have a baby.  There’s no guarantee of it–it’s more likely to not happen than to happen, but it’s worth a try.”  She tried to counter with, “Oh, but I don’t mean ask my permission…”  She then went on to tell me two other employees had made it clear to her they were leaving long before they did, and she appreciated that.  I wonder if she realises that those are the same two employees who are loudly vocal about how much they can’t stand her or her department?

But I left it at that.  I don’t plan on telling her when I apply for jobs; it only becomes her business if I accept a job offer.

“I don’t apply for jobs I don’t want.”  And that’s true, at least at this point in my life.  Maybe it won’t always be, but so far I have been lucky.

With that out in the open, my only other concern was the darn interview room.  See, the interview room is in the accounting department.  It shares a wall with my supervisor’s office.  In accounting, not only do we know everyone who interviews for any job posted, but we can hear much of their interviews.  The walls are thin.

This terrified me.  I didn’t want an audience beyond the interviewers–especially not my current supervisor and co-workers.

I petitioned for change of venue, as we call it in the criminal defense world, but could not obtain one from HR.  I was feeling pretty beat down at that point, knowing that even suspected criminals have more rights than interviewees.

Next blow: I was chatting with a circ desk friend who informed me that afore-mentioned model of librarian perfection had, in reality, applied for the job.  I’m still not sure if she felt like she had to, or if she had a change of heart and decided that making twice what she’s currently making might be worth dealing with administration more closely.  At any rate, I knew I’d lost before the interview.  Who would hire me compared to her?  wouldn’t hire me over her!

So I finally get to the interview after week-of-employed-hell.  It lasts one hour and fifteen minutes.  There were no side-stories, interruptions, or pauses.  It was a gruelling 75 minute interview.  I have never had such an experience in my life.  Question after question after question.  Scenarios, policy quizzing (one which I got wrong because I didn’t know that what I had seen other employees do regarding patrons watching pornography in front of other people was not the right response as of the most recent policy, which changes all the time), describe-when-this-bad-thing-happened-and-how-you-responded…  At the end were the typical interview questions, like “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”  By that point, my brain was just plain dry.  I made some half-smart response which was not remotely similar to the one I had practised, memorised, internalised.  I have a million things to offer to that job that are unique, but I couldn’t think of a single one.  I have experiences I can bring to the job that someone who has worked at only one job her entire life cannot.

Yet I knew it didn’t matter.  Unless for some crazy reason, she withdrew her application at the last second, I was not going to even have a chance at this job.

The worst thing was the look on one of the interviewers’ face.  Every time I answered, she furrowed her brows and frowned.  She was 8 inches from my face and I could not ignore her response.  I couldn’t tell if that was her “concentrating” face, or her “Wow that was wrong–how do I get her fired?” face.

Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

The HR lady called me into her office today to tell me they picked the other candidate who had “so much more” experience working there than I did.  And to let me know the correct response to the pornography question, since my answer was “concerning.”

I’m vaguely upset that this life-changing job opportunity did not happen to me (maybe it wouldn’t be that life-changing since it’s at the same place I’ve worked for 2 years, but it would at least be a freeing change), but mainly just upset at myself for how deeply the anxiety hit me.  I have never had a sleepless night before an interview, and I have never made myself sick.  It’s enough to make me want to stop looking for new jobs altogether.  I feel like if I can’t get the anxiety under control, I’m going to be stuck doing what I’m doing forever.

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