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Monday, December 20, 2010

A Training We Will Go: How to get pre-hired

“Hello. Sorry for making you wait. My name is Saroja Naidu,” my interviewer said, extending her right hand. I grabbed it, most professionally and squeezed the right amount of confidence into her hand, just like all those etiquette pointers that people always talked about when meeting new people and how hard to shake their hands, etc. “Oh, that’s alright,” I said. It was by no means “alright” I tell you, but I wanted this job so the honest opinion had to be chained down.

“So tell me,” went on Ms. Naidu, “What do you know about training and why do you want to be a trainer?” She got right down to it, and this I really liked. It was a refreshing change from all the people who had asked me to send them my résumé, only to spend the first five minutes of the interview reading it right in front of me. Furthermore, although the question seemed generic, I appreciated the fact that it was open-ended enough to get unsuspecting interviewees to start off on one of their practiced rants about how they felt it was something they were good at, or in some extreme cases, how a deceased family member appeared to them in a dream and informed them that it was their destiny to be an English Trainer. I immediately pointed out that although I hadn’t necessarily trained a large number of people in a classroom before, my English Tutor experience, complete with certificate, had ensured that all my fundamentals of the English language were intact, with the added benefit of having had to explain grammar and syntax rules and exceptions to non-native speakers of English already. On top of all that, well, I did speak English at home, of a pretty decent quality as far as “English Spoken by Indians Living Abroad” goes. And I left it at that. I realized that I hadn’t completely answered the question posed to me, but I was hoping that Ms. Naidu would look below the surface of this seemingly irrelevant answer and uncover “honesty” and “potential,” what I imagined every employer longed for. “Okay,” she began her response, “So here’s what we’d like you to do as a next step…” What? That was unbelievably fast. Next step? But I had barely said anything. Or was I getting ahead of myself? I had to calm myself down and pay attention to what she was about to say. “We’d like you to do a presentation for us,” she said, “Nothing fancy, just a 3-minute presentation about something related to the English Language.” Again my mind drew a large question mark, in triplicate. What was this? A presentation was something I hadn’t expected at all. But I was up for a challenge, and if it meant braving a panel of experts to get a job, I was going to do it to the best of my abilities. Still a little confused after building up this resolve, I decided to ask for an example of a topic for the presentation, seeing as to how nebulous “something related to the English Language” was. “Um, for example,” she started, “why don’t you focus on some of the errors that are commonly made by speakers of English in this country, and talk about how you would go about correcting them?” Brilliant suggestion! That was exactly what I was looking for. In the back of my mind though, I was berating myself for not having the presence of intellect to say something witty and to have blurted this topic out loud with a little feigned innocence and a “I was just wondering if something like this would be an appropriate topic…” kind of an act. It was amateurish at best.

“When can you come in and present to us?” she asked. The words “immediately” and “today” almost escaped my lips simultaneously, but I bit down on them hard and saved myself any undue future distress. I suggested that I come in the following day, at the same time, to present, and she seemed to suggest that that was the reasonable thing to do. In the back of my mind, I heard a voice warning me about how 24 hours was going to be the perfect opportunity for them to have filled the position or positions. Still, being one given to requiring relatively inordinate spans of time, I thought it better to take that time to do a good job of presenting, rather than rushing into it and ruining my chances. “Haste makes waste, right?” Ms. Naidu chimed in in what could only be sarcasm. I responded with a laugh that I’m pretty sure came across as poorly masked nervous hesitation before letting her know that if the amount of time was a problem I was willing to do the presentation today. “No, not at all,” she reassured me, “I’m all for adequate preparation for these kinds of things.” I smiled in nervous agreement, still unsure about there being a hint of sarcasm. So, it was settled then. I was going to present tomorrow. But there was still something amiss, and I wondered why it hadn’t occurred to me already.

She hadn’t asked to see my certificates, in my nice new folder, arranged chronologically just for such an occasion. Every piece of paper that would collectively reveal my story, at least the roller coaster ride that was "academics", had been arranged in its own plastic sleeve, so that a potential employer could glance through it as he or she would one of those coffee table books, pausing briefly on every page. So, I took the bold move -- others have since told me that it shows a remarkable willingness to either put my neck on the guillotine, or shoot myself in the foot -- and asked if she would like to look at my hard-earned pieces of fancy and unbelievably expensive paper. “No, not at the moment. I’ll do that after you’ve done your presentation and the team has given you feedback.” What? Did she say she’d take a look at my diploma et al after the presentation? But what if I don’t make it past the presentation round? Was that just a slip of the tongue in the middle of a harrowing day? Hoping that my chain of questions wasn’t showing on my face, I thanked Ms. Naidu, who replied with an, “Oh please, call me Saroja. Everyone does.” 

I got up, and left the room still facing Saroja, like one of those really, super, duper, holy fellows do at an Indian temple, making it a point not to show their backs to God. I had a presentation to prepare for, and at the present point in my life, she was as good as God. Or maybe that was to be embodied by the panel of trainers I was going to present to. Either way, I decided to get back home and get cracking on my presentation for the next day.
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