Why interviewing for your dream job is like being a contestant on Great British Bake Off

Bake-Off is finally back to grace our screens for another season of delicious delights and drama. But it seems to me that being a contestant on Bake-Off is a lot like another rather stressful part of normal life…

1: The awkward silence.

Paul Hollywood has the capability to turn even the most well-thought-out answer to a post-bake question into a prolonged, squirm-inducing awkward silence.

Paul: “Do you think the addition of poppy seeds to your ciabatta has had the desired effect?”

You: “Well yes, I think it really adds a new dimension to the bread.”

Paul: *Silence, narrows eyes*

You: “Well, I suppose it’s unorthodox but I think it works”

Paul: *Silence continues: Raises eyebrows and tilts head inquisitively*

You: “OK well maybe it could have worked out better…”

Paul: *Still quiet, Condescending nod of the head and little victorious smile*

You: “I failed. I think I’ll just go hang up my wooden spoon forever.”

Paul: “That’s probably for the best” *piercing stare from those icy blue peepers*

Ahhh… sweet relief from the torturous silence.

Hollywood: Master Baker and shatterer of dreams.

Hollywood: Master Baker and shatterer of dreams.

How to beat the Hollywood Hell-stare:

Use the silence to your advantage. Don’t allow it to be awkward. Unlike Hollywood, the great interrogator, your interviewer is unlikely to be trying to catch you out. If they want you to expand, they’ll allow you the time to do so. Probably in the form of an enticing silence. If you’re able to elaborate a little further, now’s your chance. Just keep it concise, no waffling (Food-related pun intended). If not, ask your interviewer a related question.

It’s a good idea to have some ready-made questions to ask your interviewer anyway, but it feels more natural to ask them throughout the conversation, rather than saving them all to the end. Fill those silences with relevant conversation, and feel the awkwardness melt away. Like the butter on your still warm, failed poppy-seeded ciabatta experiment.

2: The ‘that’s not how we do things here’ look:

Mary Berry is a culinary force to be reckoned with. A through-and-through traditionalist who sticks vehemently to her old-school guns. Enwezor was the most recent casualty of Mary’s disapproving look.

Mary: “Did you make the fondant yourself?”

Enwezor: “No I didn’t…”

Mary: *Silence; sustained, frowning stare* followed by: “Oh. I see.” *More silence*

Mary Berry

Like a Baked Alaska, crusty on the outside with an icy centre.

Calm on the surface, with a slightly disapproving air, Mary’s “Oh. I see.” may seem like that’s the end of that, but inside her head, under that perfectly coiffed, WI standard issue bob hairdo, there’s a little elf in a pinny and a chef’s hat, screaming at the top of his lungs: “WHAT THE  CHUFF DO YOU MEAN YOU DIDN’T MAKE YOUR OWN BLOODY FONDANT YOU BLASPHEMOUS CHUMP??”

How to recover from Berry’s silent tirade:

Well, you’d best start explaining yourself. If the interviewer doesn’t approve of how you handled your unhappy client, or the way you used ready-made code to embed that Instagram feed into your site, just explain why you did it. Explain that you’re aware of, and accepting of the other methods of handling the task, and that you could adapt to their way of doing things. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could even try to bring them round to your way of thinking. You blaze that trail! Just as long as you don’t use supermarket-purchased fondant when you’re making a birthday cake for your new boss.

3: “The rest of the group are doing better than me…”

Picture this: your profiteroles are coming along nicely. Your choux pastry is wonderful and light and becoming nicely golden in the oven. Your cream is ready-whipped into divinely semi-stiff peaks, and your chocolate topping is a thick, decadent, gloopy consistency. Things are going swimmingly.

And then, you look up from your bench and see what everyone else is up to. 80% of everyone else’s profiteroles are already cream-filled, 40% of them are chocolate-smothered, some of them are even mid-arrangement. WHAT IN THE NAME OF NIGELLA HAS HAPPENED TO THE TIME!? You’ve got a grand total of three minutes to pipe in your cream, slather them in chocolate and present them in a wonderfully pleasing stack.

You frantically fill your piping bag with whipped cream, and twist the end on tight. Suddenly, *pop* – the bag splits. You scrabble for a new bag and scoop the remnants of the cream from your broken piping bag into the new one, grab your first pastry and start filling. Your franticness means you become a bit over-zealous with your piping, and cream starts emanating from your profiteroles’ chouxy orifices.

Perfect Pyramid made by Captain Calm and Composed

Your Frantic Failure vs the Perfect Pyramid made by Captain Calm and Composed

Things only get worse when it comes to the chocolate, it’s not quite thick enough, so it doesn’t really sit on top and form lovely, thick drips down the side of your profiteroles, due to them still being warm from the oven, it kinda more dribbles straight off and forms a brown pool underneath each creamy ball of failure. Arrange in vaguely-organised pile, place next to other contestants’ perfectly formed profiterole pyramids, sit back at your bench, weep. Just in time for Mel and Sue to declare the challenge over.

OK; let’s rewind.

Ideally, in a group interview / seminar / test, you want to keep an eye on what’s going on around you as much as possible. Keep track of the time. Keep an eye on your competitors, not to copy, but figure out what they’re missing. Remember, the author Herman Melville said: “It’s better to fail in originality than succeed in imitation.” Think outside the box to see where you can improve on what they’ve done, or add insight.

If worst comes to worst, and you feel like all is lost, have faith! Stay calm, make the most of what you have. If you end up with a result that could have been better, highlight it afterwards. Make sure your interviewer understands that you’ve learned from your mistake, and that you’ll use what you’ve learned to better yourself in the future.

4: That one who’s insanely nervous, but has no reason to be…

You know the type, impeccably turned out, not a hair out of place, ridiculously well qualified, with months of preparation under their belt, just for this one interview. They should be the most confident person in the group. Instead, they’re absolutely terrified. Trembling and sweating, freaking out. On last year’s Bake Off, this person was Ruby. I think I saw her smile about four times, throughout the entire series, which is unfortunate, because I think I may have been a little bit in love with her, and her occasional smile was a delight.

This year’s deeply talented epic worrier seems to be Martha, the 17-year-old wonder kid who’s already making three-dimensional biscuit ski resorts, pushing the boat out with thyme-infused lemon cakes and wowing Mary with her well-executed version of a classic Berry cherry cake. And yet, she seems unable to get all the way to the end of completing one of her masterpieces without starting to shake like she’s just had four shots of espresso with her morning cereal. All washed down with a Red Bull. Or two.

Martha and Ruby - the Stress Sisters

Martha and Ruby - the Stress Sisters

If this is you:

In the immortal words of the great man Bob Marley: “Chiiiiiiiiill Winston!”* If you’ve managed to get to this stage, the hiring manager must see something in you, they must at least think that you can do the job, or you wouldn’t be sat there having an internal meltdown. All you need to do is prove them right. Be calm, skip the caffeine in the morning, caffeine makes you very motivated, but it also makes you talk too much and this can turn to waffling. (There’s them waffles again!) Be confident! remember, there’s a reason you’re there, and it’s because you’re right for the job.

*Disclaimer: I have no idea if Bob Marley ever said this, nor do I know for sure if he knew anyone called Winston, much less if Winston needed to chill.

5: Be like Nancy, the free-thinking innovator:

Nancy, the 60 yr old Grandmother-of-eight from Lincolnshire seemed rather unassuming, if somewhat feisty, and full of what the French call ‘le joie de vivre’ when she first graced our screens in this year’s Bake Off.

That comforting smile, that excited sparkle in her eye, I’m sure would transport many of us back to memories of our dear Grannies, stood at their kitchen worktop, dusted in flour and icing sugar, eager to proudly present her visiting family with her fresh and delicious creations she’d been lovingly slaving over.

But within the first two episodes, we got confirmation that Nancy is not your regular Nanna! She’s a trailblazer, a maverick, an innovator! The Steve Jobs, the Elon Musk, the Da Vinci, the Tony Stark, of prime-time, bakery-based quality BBC programming.

So far, she’s come up with a Precision Swiss Roll Chopper Gullotine Thingy™, and an Industrial Biscuit-Puncturing Hole Puncher Jobby®. Who knows what we’ll see next! A Supercharged, V8 mixer? An automatic Vol-au-vent corer-outer-er? All Copyright Nancy of Bake-Off, obviously. I’m on the edge of my seat here, Nanna! Err.. I mean, Nancy.

And better yet, she got her husband to build them for her. She’s resourceful, an innovator, a great delegator, she understands and uses the talents of those around her to get ahead, but of course, gives credit where credit is due. A true leader!

Nancy and Tony Stark - Basically the same.

Nancy and Tony Stark - Basically the same.

How to be Nanna Nancy:

I know it’s a cliché, but you need to think ‘outside the box’. Do a quick analysis of what the company does already, and more importantly, how they do it. Understand their goals. Is there a new way to do things differently to achieve their goals? To do things better? To tap into a new market? As a recruiter, I have a lot of clients who favour candidates with something ‘entrepreneurial’ about them.

Don’t get me wrong, you shouldn’t be finding ways to ‘innovate, for the sake of innovation’ – you need to be able to prove, and demonstrate, that your method is better, or at least that it’s effective in driving positive change. A great way to do this, is a SWOT analysis; Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Use this analysis for each of the company’s goals. Wikipedia has a great article about SWOT, look it up and give it a go.

This blog was written by Liam Peacock, Technical Account Manager at Digital Minds Recruitment. Recruiting for Tech roles throughout the UK, including Web and Software Developers, Engineers, Analysts, Dev Ops, UI / UX, and Digital Designers, as well as Digital Marketing roles, including PPC, SEO, Social Media, CRO and Affiliates. Looking for a new job in Tech or Digital? Email liam@digital-minds.co.uk or call 0113 243 3904


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