Interview (a lesson in littleness)

Paris Tuileries Garden Facepalm statue

I had a job interview yesterday. It didn’t go well!

I left my last job a few months ago, having decided it was time for a  change. I intentionally left without another role to go to, in order to take a bit of a break (after 30 years of work) and to make the time and head-space to consider my next move.

I’d been told that the interview was to be in three parts: a hands-on Excel (spreadsheet) test, a short written test, and a face-to-face interview. I guessed I might struggle with the written test, as it would probably relate to the business itself, which was an area I’d not been involved with before. On the other hand, I’ve used Excel extensively for years, so that would be no problem at all; and the face-to-face interview would then give me an opportunity to highlight what have to offer and hopefully alleviate any concerns about the gaps in my knowledge and experience.

Or so I thought. The written test and face-to-face interview went pretty much as expected. But the Excel test was a disaster! The task was (not unreasonably) based around the company’s business – but this being an area I am not especially familiar with, I spent far too long trying to get to grips with the questions and formulating an appropriate approach to answering them. In the end I didn’t complete the task, and what I did complete was not particularly good.

This was one of the main skills that I would bring to the role, and I completely failed to demonstrate my claimed (and indeed, real!) aptitude and ability!

This was, naturally enough, rather disappointing. The role had looked interesting, and (from what I knew) I felt I’d be able to do it well, once I’d learnt a bit more about the business. What’s more, I would have been working within walking distance of home, avoiding the need for a daily commute – which was certain a great added attraction. Without doubt the unmitigated disaster that was my Excel test will have put paid to any chance of me being offered the job.

But it wasn’t just disappointing, it was embarrassing! Indeed, embarrassment was probably my over-riding emotion. To say you are good at something – and to be good at something – and then to fail at it so miserably and so publicly (even if the ‘public’ was only the three people conducting the interview) – that is embarrassing.

I talk a lot about the need for childlikeness and littleness (as you are probably painfully aware!) But such an approach to life involves more than things like play and wonder and joy and awe. It also involves having a a childlike humility – a willingness to set aside our abilities and our achievements, our positions and our power; a giving up our desire to have and our desire to be; a giving up, even, of what we have and what we are.

This is certainly not something that comes easily or naturally. I might truly believe that it is important, but that doesn’t mean it is something I am eager to do. Truth be told, I want childlikeness and littleness on my own terms, and under my control. Which is not what it’s about at all.

Which is why some good came out of yesterday’s Excel test. Yes, it was disappointing; yes, it was embarrassing. But it also gave a glimpse of what it is like when we don’t have what we need, when we can’t make it happen, when we can no longer put on a show of competence and control (recognising that the circumstances were hardly earth-shattering and my discomfort slight).

I’d not have chosen the experience – but it was a little glimpse of littleness.

(You can read my further reflections on childlike humility here).

Image by Alex E. Proimos ( [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


  1. Hi Phil – this is a great example, and what I find interesting is how quickly you were able to process it and see the benefit that can come from these humbling experiences. Not everyone would be able to to that in one day. I guess that comes from taking this “littleness” thing seriously on a day-to-day basis.

    It reminded me of an experience I had when I was asked to lead a couple of hymns at a meeting at church. I prepared for it quite well, getting my songs and guitar ready. But when I went up to lead, the guitar had gone COMPLETELY out of tune and I was too flustered to tune it on the fly. Like you say, it is so embarrassing and humbling to appear incompetent at something I can do well. Later I was able to reflect that (1) it’s not all about me (2) everyone else probably forgot all about it. But at the time? Ouch.

  2. Thank you, Jeannie! I think your experience sounds worse – rather more public!

    I am trying to be a bit more intentional in looking to see the littleness in my daily life. Writing about it a bit more regularly is helping with that (hence the sudden plethora of posts –though I don’t know how long this will last, as it takes me too long!)

    It’s a shame that such humbling must so often be not of our choosing. Makes me think of a misquote of that well known phrase, “Some are born little, some achieve littleness, and some have littleness thrust upon them.” 🙂

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