Less than a year after my last job interview, I found myself dusting off my interview suit, breathing a sigh of relief that it still fitted, and tipping all the contents out of my interview briefcase to see if I could find my crib notes on such questions as "why do you want this job?" and "what are your strengths, weaknesses, and favourite flavour of jelly beans?".
Yes, I had an interview. And no, before you ask, I didn't get the job. The vagueness of the job description became clearer within the first half an hour of me arriving at the school: my three hours of application form filling-in, three hours of observed lesson preparation, and uncounted hours of online research were going to do me no good because I was up against an Internal Candidate.
Now I'm not naive enough to believe that by default an internal candidate will get the job. I've witnessed my previous colleagues go for promotions within our school and known full well that the governors and headteacher are looking for anybody slightly more competent than them. But when the internal candidate has been acting up in the role for over 12 months already, you know you might as well reverse the car straight back out of the parking space and go and watch daytime television instead of putting yourself through a day of stress and humiliation.
But that's not what I did. Because in some ways I have a belief in myself that I could actually do the job well. I don't know if it would be better than the competition - and this answers one of the questions posed to me by the sixth form representatives in the informal interview in the morning...
Sixth form reps: "What makes you think you can do this job better than the other candidates?"
Me: "Because they look a bit thick and the older bloke has definitely got a nervous twitch."
No, not really.
Me: "I think that's impossible to say because I don't know the other candidates."
And so I participated in the usual pattern of the interview day: I traipsed around the school with a couple of hand-picked confident middle class pupils, taking in the hidden pockets of rubbish and graffiti, and sat sipping coffee with the other candidates, and went through the tiresome "informal" stuff which is anything but. The internal candidate was a nervous wreck and was being pumped for information by an overly ambitious young whipper-snapper of a candidate, and I flicked through my collection of crib cards on latest initiatives and findings.
As this was a management position of small standing, I expected the morning to include some kind of "in-tray" exercise or a quick analysis of statistics, but instead it was the usual routine of interrogation by the headteacher, a deputy, and a number of sixth formers with naive questions. As our morning schedule drew to a close, my stomach began to grumble with hunger, and I wondered what kind of food the canteen served up.
But before lunchtime, in breezed the headteacher with the deputy and head of department, and began to address us all. "Strong candidates, blah blah, exciting and innovative lessons, blah blah..." So we were about to be weeded out before lunchtime. No chance to meet the governors, shake a few hands whilst maintaining eye contact, nor even make electioneering promises about lunchtime clubs and new initiatives. But to make it worse, this headteacher obviously had an urge not to be running a school but instead to be Simon Cowell, gloating with power and about to eliminate one or more of us. And it wasn't my imagination, I'm sure, that the headteacher had shot a look straight at the internal candidate but avoided any eye contact with me. So I felt prepared enough after the "strong candidates" bit to realise I was being sent home without any lunch or any chance to set out my stall in the formal interview.
However nothing quite prepares you for the awkwardness for everyone involved when you are told, in front of everyone else, that you are not worthy. Why it has to be done "X-Factor" style I really don't know. Far better, surely, to be told individually rather than in front of everyone else. It's like a slap across the face or being given a detention slip. I slowly and deliberately shuffled my papers into my briefcase, wondering if the other candidates could bear to look at me. I took my time. I decided that if I was to be humiliated in front of everyone then I might as well prolong the awkward silence for everyone else too. After a short eternity I rose from my chair, gave the other candidates a curt nod, and left the room, resisting any urges to be petulant and slam the door. No lunch! The greatest humiliation of it all! And it was a thirty minute drive back to my house.
Still, I had a good afternoon of lounging around instead of the alternative: waiting anxiously for a formal interview, then hanging around to be told the results. And I feel lucky, in a way, firstly to have seen a school whose website promises so much and whose derelict buildings told a different tale, and secondly, to have discovered so soon the sadistic tendencies of the headteacher.