It’s just an interview, not an inquisition… I look around the hall and quickly sum up my odds. Forty six wide eyed applicants armed with impressive resumes from some of the world’s finest flight-based operators sit clustered around me, all looking incredibly primed, professional and ready to snatch up the three available vacancies from the advert. Swallowing hard, I curse under my breath and straighten up my tie.
The auditorium is clearly a multi-purpose event centre designed to be readily repurposed to suit the company’s various needs; its high ceilings and large windows feel stern and impersonal, but not nearly as much as the lady and gent sifting through a mountain of files and envelopes on the platform roughly Fifty yards from the applicants. Occasionally they stop peering at their latest victim from above their precariously perched spectacles to scribble down their opinions, cycle glances from his documents, his attire, their imposing clipboards, each other, and back to his eyeballs.
James seems to be holding his own out there, responding breathlessly just beyond earshot with elaborate gestures, obviously describing various aircraft systems and mechanisms in concise detail. If I’m to get past those two I’ll really have to bring my A-game because clearly, simply knowing my aircraft and procedures won’t be enough to make me stand out. As my former colleague from Sky-jet started maneuvering to vacate his seat and rejoin the pilot pool on the floor, I give my suit a nice quick jerk to either side, tuck-up my neck tie for hopefully the last time and twist my lips into a tight smile.
“Ali Ikhi… Ikhi..” she falters.
“Ikhigbonaremen” I supply.
“But I’m just okay with Ali, or Iki if you must” I continue, trotting up to replace James on the platform.
This is the Eight’ time I’ve made it this far through the convoluted screening process Nigerian airlines employ, all without any form of ‘god-fatherism’, and I was running out of airlines to apply to. A quick once-over told me she was slightly embarrassed but rapidly recovering her composure with a broad grin, while his tight lips drawn into barely visible pencil lines told a whole different story… I’ll have to be more careful around Mr. Territory over here I thought, best not be too casual but first things first, the christening: how about “Tweedle-dweeb and Tweedle-dumb”? He certainly looks dumb enough in his N400 packet-shirt that would look out of place in his own living room, while her over-sized horn-rimmed glasses belie her otherwise pretty face and the curvaceous body straining out of her tight skirt-suit. Nailed it!
“Hi, thanks for this opportunity” I beam, motioning a request to take the wooden chair deliberately chosen for being less Imposing than theirs and just as they both gesture their invitation for me to have it; he’s being less welcoming than hers, I imagine Debbie the Phenom pilot who just returned from Ukraine would have the reverse reception from Tweedle-dumb when she saunters her centre-fold figure up here in Five minutes.
“I see you’ve not been flying actively since you got your initial commercial license in 2013” Tweedle-dumb stated, going straight for the jugular… “Besides a little activity on ‘trainers’ barely spanning a year in er… Botswana? That’s in the Southern African region isn’t it? You seem to have spent quite some time outside the industry. What have you been up to for all of these three years?”
Story of my life!.. Now that he’s drawn blood he’s suddenly more relaxed. Folding his arms over his pot-belly and reclining into his high-backed leather throne, he causes the poor chair to let out a groan I’m certain can be heard from the adjoining corridors. There’ll be more questions and I’ll have to adapt an answer to each and every one of them as they come, but this isn’t one of them. I’ve heard this angle enough times to perfect my response and I hope you’re ready.
Feigning unpreparedness to steady what I assume is a pretty fragile ego, I start addressing him with a slight slant of uncertainty to my tone, all the while carefully picking my words and allegories to pander to Tweedle-dweeb’s apparent weakness for everything up-standing. “Well…” I started. “My time as a bush pilot started off rather challenging because it was a stark deviation from my modular training on a curriculum designed for airline pilots… as I progressed with Sky-jet, I came to better appreciate my interests and the need to for flight training syllables to be more encompassing and…”
Truth be told, there’s no response to such a question as what I’ve been up to for the past three years, but I was a man with a plan and a purpose, and since I needed this job to start my life’s journey, the Tweedle-twins would have to ask questions that lead linearly to the accomplishment of my goal to land an airline job or sit through more of my lectures. Luckily I could soon tell Tweedle-dumb was shifting his weight in his seat and blinking because he was lost through my rapid rambling disguised as an intellectual response and unwilling to admit it, he doodles on his clipboard, careful to keep his work to himself. Tweedle-dweeb soon comes to his rescue with a penned question about the workings of a turbo-jet engine. Obviously she’s a HR staff with limited aviation training so I know there’s a sketchpad attached to her clipboard on which she has written a set of keywords I must mention in a certain order.
Smiling to myself, I quickly switch from existential to factual mode and rattle off the basic principles behind the workings of the turbo-jet engine to them, careful to keep the use all the key-words in all the right places. Answer follows question for a few minutes more, Tweedle-dumb careful not to start off an ode to professional ethics soon gets lost in his fantasies; probably about Debbie from the glazed look in his eyes and the way his head lolls towards the floor behind me, allowing me to sneak in a few smiles, winks and nods at Tweedle-dweeb.
As I get up to leave I hear the perfunctory formality to expect a call from her and a grunt from him, to both of which I respond with a smile and a nod. As far as interviews go, I’d say that wasn’t a bad one at all.