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Job interview advice: do not joke about Satanism

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We all know interviews are a sweaty cesspit of nerves, despair and unfortunate mistakes. At The Key, we have a range of articles that suggest interview questions for a whole variety of school-based roles. These articles are popular with school leaders, but I’m not sure a list of questions fully encapsulates the torrid experience of a job interview.

I still grimace when I remember my first proper job interview. Before attending university, I took a year out to experience the exciting world of work. This wasn’t my brightest idea, given that it was the peak of the recession and my only previous experience was a paper-round and a brief stint as a waiter at a run-down B&B. After sending off roughly a million applications, I eventually got an interview for a support staff post at a local Catholic secondary school.

Clad in my old school shirt and a tie stolen from an older brother, I sweated and stuttered through the interview. Then came a question I probably should’ve been expecting: “Given the religious nature of the school, are you Catholic?”

I politely answered “no,” only to be met with a slightly awkward silence. To try and fill that silence with humour, I quickly added, “… But, I’m also not a Satanist …”. This turned a slightly awkward silence into a very awkward silence.

I somehow got the job, but more importantly, I learnt a vital life lesson: do not joke about Satanism in job interviews.

To comfort myself, I emailed my colleagues at The Key in search of other embarrassing stories. Luckily, a bunch of them responded.

One colleague regaled me with fashion disasters:

I wore my friend’s new suit to my first proper job interview as I didn’t own one. It would have been fine, but she was five inches shorter than me. I wore the flattest shoes I could find and spent the whole time walking with bent knees.

A former teacher confessed his unusual reason for getting into the profession:

In my first teacher interview, I was asked why I enjoy teaching. My reply was that it is nice to have something interesting to talk about with my girlfriend in the evening.

Not my best answer.

Another colleague got a bit too vague with his answers:

When I interviewed at Google for a TeachFirst summer placement, they asked:

"How many commercial aircraft are currently in the skies across the USA right now?"

Turns out they didn't consider "quite a lot" an adequate response...

Someone proved a bit too honest for the role:

I once went for a job in a call centre where the role was asking people if they wanted to change estate agents to sell their house. I was asked, “How do you feel about lying?”.

At this point I balked and she rephrased it:

“Ok, how do you feel about bending the truth?”

One colleague pretty much just used this as an excuse to brag about her muscular arms:

I was once in an interview on a hot summer’s day, wearing a sleeveless dress because of the heat, when the interviewer asked what my hobbies were. I’d recently graduated from university, where I’d rowed, so I told her that I’d been doing that for a couple of years.

Without missing a beat she said “Well, that explains the muscular arms”, and then changed the subject. Awkward doesn't really cover it.

Another told me about a gun show of a different kind:

Once, a guy interviewing me shouted, “Is that a gun in your bag?” midway through one of my responses to a question. He then casually said, “Oh, it’s just an umbrella” before I had chance to respond.

Pretty weird, but after getting the job he explained to me that it’s a tactic they use to see whether candidates can resume their train of thought after being disrupted.

And finally, a researcher who I hope was joking, responded with:

This one time, I applied for a job as an education researcher for a joke…

Most of these stories ended with “I got the job in the end!”, which is a little concerning.


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