The Conference Call

I had been preparing for an important interview that was to be conducted with a committee over a conference call. I had been preparing for this interview since June (2016) when I first saw the posting for the position.

Read or waiting to be read.
Read or waiting to be read.

The conference call was to be the night of January 5, last Thursday. I wanted the best possible clarity for this call, because there is nothing more annoying than not being able to hear someone in a phone conversation. I put money on my Skype account so that I could call the dial-in number to the conference line. Then, I did test calls on both the Skype line and my cell phone. I was told that I sounded “more normal” on the cell phone and that both were clear. Cell phone it would be, then.

That night, I came home from work early, arranged my notes, had a bottle of water at hand, pre-warmed my apartment and then turned off the thermostat because it is loud when my furnace kicks in, unplugged the cat’s drinking fountain, and turned on my electric blanket. I opened Skype, wondered at being logged off, and logged back in with my username so that the backup plan for the phone was ready and waiting in the background.

Two or three minutes before the appointed time, I picked up my cell phone and carefully dialed the number from the e-mail I had printed out. An automatic message announced the name of the conference call company, as expected. It asked for my access code, as expected. I started keying in the nine numbers which were to be followed by the pound sign. But, after entering five or six of the digits, I was interrupted by,

“The access code is not correct. Please check the number and enter your access code, followed by the pound sign.”

Not expected, but no problem. I started over, more carefully. Five or six numbers in,

“The access code is not correct. Please check the number and enter your access code, followed by the pound sign.”

I repeated this process so many times that the message changed to,

“You have exceeded the number of allowed attempts.”

I called my contact person for the search committee and briefly explained the predicament. I said I would try the internet line. When I tried that, it said I had no money available for the Skype call (of the $9.00+ credit I had just days prior). Frantically, I added more money, which showed that I now had $19.00+ but still $0 when I tried to make the call.

Interspersed with all this activity were calls to my contact person, who was trying to help come up with solutions. I was also web chatting with Skype, trying to troubleshoot where my money was going.* By now, though, it was all too late, even if it had worked — if anything had worked. My allotted time for the interview was gone.

All search committee members and all previous interviewees had had no problems accessing the conference line. I was the only one having a problem.

I was crushed, confused, disoriented.

One of the other search committee members kindly tried another company for a conference call test call. Yes, I was immediately able to connect. There was no time for an interview now, but here was something that did seem to work — and, yes, I did know how to use a phone.

Sophie the Cat comforting my unused notes.

I said I would try to find a land line to use for our next attempt.

The new date was last night, Tuesday, January 10. I had e-mailed a friend. Their house phone used the internet (so not an actual land line, but her husband used it all the time for conference calls with no problems). They agreed I could come over and have my interview there.

snow Enter Winter Storm Helena. Monday, January 9, I had no work, because of the roads. Tuesday, the day of the second-attempt interview, we had a delayed opening, because of the roads. The search committee was aware of my possible predicament. Twice, they checked on my safety, to see if I wanted to reschedule.

I confirmed that I wanted to keep the interview time as it was.

At my friend’s home that evening (having arrived safely), I unloaded the backpack I had taken to work with me that morning. I arranged my printed notes and my open laptop.

I did a test call from my  friend’s home phone handset to my cell phone, just to make sure I was familiar with the buttons on that handset. No problems. I had both of their handsets, just in case the battery should start to die in the one I was using.

Five minutes before the appointed time, I confidently picked up their handset and dialed the number. I heard the recorded message announcing the name of the conference call company, as expected. I dialed the nine-digit access code and breathed a sigh of relief as I pushed the pound sign.

“The access code you have dialed is incorrect. You entered [string of digits]. Please checked the access code and re-enter, followed by the pound sign.”

It was repeating back to me numbers that were slightly different than what was on my paper. I tried again, being extra, extra careful.

Same message.

I tried again, on the other handset.

Same message.

Being terrified of the “exceeded attempts” message, I called out to my friend for help. She had her husband come upstairs to where I was, with all my papers and paraphernalia encircling me on the floor where I had been sitting so I would have enough space for it all. I thought, “Surely, he does this all the time. Surely, he will know some quirk of his phone that I do not.” He tried it.

Same message.

He tried the other handset.

Same message.

“Do you want to try my cell phone?” he asked.

“Yes,” I urgently said, grasping any ray of hope and glad that I had previously told him, in passing, the interview was scheduled to last 40 minutes.

Same message.

By now, it was two minutes after the appointed time.

My brain could not make sense of it all.

My heart sinking, I picked up my cell phone to call my contact person on her cell phone. Just as I finished dialing, my friend’s husband miraculously connected to the people on the conference line. I hung up my phone and gratefully received the cell phone he held outstretched to me.

I cannot tell you the relief that swept over me to hear their voices, at last. Most of the voices belonged to people I had never met, but they were such welcome tones, familiar to me at once because I so longed to hear them.

The sound quality of the connection was not perfect. My answers were not perfect. But, it was done.


*By the end of my chat with Skype, I learned that even though I could successfully log in with my username, the money for making a dialed phone call was only available if I logged in with my full e-mail address (not my username portion alone). Why make a system like that? (I am sure it was not by intentional design.)


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