The Interview (A Fine Line Between Mental Health and Mental Ill-Health)
Updated: Feb 4, 2021
We've all been there, even if it was decades ago, you still remember your first interview. Mine was for an IT helpdesk job at an investment bank in Canary Wharf. I knew little about computers, software or hardware, networks or operating systems. But it was my first real interview and somehow I managed to talk my way through it with a naive confidence and enthusiasm that only comes with youth. In my first week on the job I cried every night, I was ready to walk, honestly, I knew NOTHING. But I stuck it out, there wasn't much choice. I'd moved to London that summer with my bedding and some inappropriate clothing. I was fiercely independent and at no point was I going cap in hand to the bank of Mum and Dad. After a few months passed, I made friends with Windows NT 4.0 and became quite good at my job.
A year later I was offered a position in the Trade Floor Support team. This was a huge step up from the lowly IT helpdesk. I'd made it! I thought. On the Friday before my Monday start date, I was told it wasn't happening. They'd decided to hire a contractor instead. I was devastated, my first big disappointment, it still hurts a little all these years later (oh come on, let it go!). But of course, all things happen for a reason. I had much to learn, not just about the technology, we were all learning about tech in the 90s, but the key to survival in corporate life... learning to navigate the choppy waters of office politics.
The interview that sticks in my mind for the wrong reasons, and I want to tell you about, was 10 years later. I'd learnt my trade and was managing large teams, however, boredom had set in. (I was keen to move to Asia. Singapore or Hong Kong, I didn't mind which. My best friend had relocated to HK and I had fallen in love with the city during one long weekend). Out of the blue, my department head - a brilliant women I admired, and still do - called me up and suggested I go for a "chat" with the head of a new tech group. He was a peer of hers and they got along well. She was easy to get along with; kind, funny, smart and fearless. She watched me grow up at that firm and had been mentoring me on and off. Of course, I agreed.
The day of the interview (it was never referred to as one) I turned up nervous and unprepared, not sure about the role or purpose of the new group. At that time I was easily intimidated by Managing Directors. Spoiler alert - they're not all nice! There are genuine individuals who care deeply about their job and the firm they work for, but there are those who put their career before anything, and while they might be nice when needed, that stops immediately when it isn't. This guy seemed nice. I nodded along while he talked me through his vision for the new organisation. My inner voice was mumbling questions like "huh?" and "why am I here?". The confidence I entered the firm with 10 years earlier had all but disappeared. I contributed to the conversation as best I could, but walked away feeling a fraud. What a waste of his time, I thought. I returned to my desk and remembered he'd asked if I could help with some data analysis, though I was sure it was a test. I knuckled down.
A week went by and I was no further forward with the analysis. My anxiety levels had crossed over into unchartered territories. I had lost all control of the rational thinking, left-part of my brain. The decision was made (in my mind, anyway), that I was entirely incompetent. I could've called back with questions, asked for more clarification. But instead, I catastrophised. My sleeping patterns went haywire, my regular work wasn't getting done, the worry was constant and repetitive. I could only think unhelpful thoughts - I've reached my potential, no-one will ever hire me, I've been found out. My dreams of living abroad were dashed, I'll have to move back up north and in with my parents. Argh!
Then finally I received the call from my mentor. "He wants to hire you, are you in?". I was confused. I called him up reluctantly and began to excuse my lack of response to the task he set. "No problem, I got what I needed from HR" he said coolly. "So, when can you start?". And that was that. I worked for him for 7 years, half of that time in Hong Kong, and he was the best manager I'd ever had.
Throughout the week of that interview, the scenarios I'd created in my mind had circled on a negative loop. The inner gremlin telling me I wasn't good enough, that my luck had run out, the child I reverted to, and what use was it? None of what I imagined was based on fact, the reality was far different. I can't help thinking if the hiring decision had gone the other way where those negative thoughts may have led, or how far they might've pushed me over the line, from healthy anxiety, to a much darker place.
The Corporate Mind by Ann Camargo
Throughout my blog posts, I intentionally don't give advice. My aim is to tell my story - often personal, sometimes at my own expense and perhaps a little uncomfortable to read. I share my experiences to encourage professionals in the financial services industry to do the same. It's good to talk about mental health in the workplace, it helps to break the stigma. For many of us on a daily basis, we are skating that fine line between mental health and mental ill-health.