The atmosphere in the room is tense. From a pool of more than a hundred applicants, we are the final twelve to get through to face the psychological test.
It is like being back at school: we sit at separate tables and have an hour to answer five questions. An invigilator watches us sternly to ensure there is no collaboration.
It is all too much for one girl; she rushes out of the room in tears. Eleven candidates remain. I am sorely tempted to follow her but the state of my finances keeps me in my seat. God knows, I really need this job.
The other candidates are scribbling furiously, while I sit gazing into space, trying to decide how to maximise my chances of success. The company says it is looking for honest answers and original thinking, but this could be just a bluff, and if so, should I call it?
One by one, the others put their pens down, stand and look around confidently as they leave the room. Now I am the only one left. The invigilator is shifting impatiently in his chair and looking at his watch.
The first four questions were relatively straightforward and I have answered them as openly as I can, but I am struggling with question 5: “Is there anything for which you would willingly lay down your life?”
Honestly, the answer is no.
Would I die if it meant there would be no more wars? No, because war is sometimes necessary to rid the world of greater evils.
Would I give up my life to find a cure for all cancers? No, because removing a major natural cause of death would put even greater strain on the earth’s scarce resources.
Would I sacrifice myself to save a roomful of children from a mad axeman? I would like to think so, but the human organism is programmed for survival. If it came to it, I would probably save as many as I could, but without putting myself at unnecessary risk.
Suddenly, I am swept by a wave of incandescent rage. What bearing do these questions have on my ability to do this job? And what gives the company the right to stand in judgment over my ethics, anyway? Am I prepared to sell my soul for this job?
Incensed, I consider tearing up my answer paper and walking out in protest, but that seems a wholly inadequate expression of my outrage. So with three minutes remaining, I answer question 5 with two words, one of which is an Anglo Saxon expletive, then I put my pen down, smile sweetly at the invigilator and leave.
The following day I don’t know who is more amazed: me, when they offer me the job, or them, when I turn it down.
About the author: A semi-retired science journalist, Hilary Ayshford is now exploring her creative side from her cottage in Kent, which she shares with her unruly Labrador Morgan.
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