M'sian City Life #25: My Interviewer's First Question Was About My Race

"What's gnawing at the back of my head was the fact that he asked me about my race first, and continued the conversation from there."

Cover image via Venoshini/SAYS

Venoshini Sevalimgam came back to Malaysia during her summer break in hopes of securing a place in an internship programme

A few weeks before she came back from the UK, Venoshini applied for a few internship positions. She really wanted to do something related to her degree in Chemical Engineering.

Unfortunately for the 22-year-old, things didn't go as planned.

Competition was tough and her applications were rejected because she was inexperienced and they were only looking for penultimate year students, while she was only in her second year.

Still, she was going to do something worthwhile during her break so she decided that she should get a part-time job.

"I live in Melaka and I was thinking that if I don't have an internship, I could look for a part-time job in Melaka," Venoshini said.

A quick search on Google brought her to a Facebook page for part-time jobs in Malacca, and Venoshini was quick to call up the companies listed on the page

Photo for illustration purposes only.

Image via Teachers Resource

One of the jobs listed on the page was a 2-week job as a promoter for a shoe brand in one of the major shopping malls in Melaka.

"The post did not state any particular race as a requirement, but it did clearly mention that they require applicants to speak certain languages. They wanted anyone who could speak Malay, English and Mandarin."

Venoshini, who can speak Malay and English fluently as well as understand Mandarin and speak a little of it, thought that she could give it a shot and call up the person in charge.

She had little expectations, but Venoshini was left speechless when the interviewer asked about her race

"I introduced myself, stating that I saw his post and was interested but I noticed that I have passed the date he required a promoter. Mind you I was speaking in English and then he answered in Malay," she recalled.

"The first thing he asked me was if I saw the job posting on Facebook. I answered, 'Yes'."

"Then he followed up with, 'Awak bangsa apa? Cina? Melayu?' (What is your race? Chinese? Malay?)"

"I answered, 'India'."

"Then, there was a long pause on his side. He stuttered like he was lost for words."

She noted that he took quite some time to gather his thoughts but the conversation has become rather quite awkward at that point.

"He flatly told me that he already has a promoter and said that he could call back if he needed me."

"I respect him for telling me that the position was filled but in my mind, I just don't see what my race had anything to do with the call."

"What's gnawing at the back of my head was the fact that he asked me about my race first, and continued the conversation from there."

Venoshini felt that he could have asked her if she could speak Mandarin and Malay and she could have easily prove to him that she could.

However, she decided that there was no worth in convincing this person that she could do the job.

"The conversation ended there because he totally put me off and I didn't want to convince him that I was worth hiring anyway," she said.

"When I look back at this, a part of me somehow feels like I'm blowing this out of proportion because maybe, he was telling the truth. Maybe, he just didn't need another promoter. But it just annoys me because he judged me based on one question, 'Awak bangsa apa?'"

Although she was discouraged, things took a positive turn for Venoshini as she managed to secure a lab assistant position

"I told myself to just look for part-time jobs since I was 'desperate'. I needed to do something over the summer. Otherwise, I'll just be a couch potato."

Despite her scepticism that no professor would offer her such a position because she was only in her second year, Venoshini is spending her summer break helping a lecturer with research at a local university.

Before she landed this part-time job, she also called up other companies looking for a job. Generally, the calls were quite pleasant.

"When you look at it that way, most of my phone interviews have been amazing. That one (for the shoe promoter job) was the only sour one I have had so far."

"You, sir, on the other side of the line, I will never know you but you could've just missed out on a stellar employee."

Venoshini noted that many advertisements in Malaysia actually state what race they prefer, but she thinks that it is time for this culture to change.

"Is a person's credibility really based on their race?"

"It's really difficult to change a person's preconceived notion of a certain race. To be honest, I'll never know what was going through the person's mind when I said I was Indian. All I knew was that there was a long pause," Venoshini said about her own experience.

She admitted that she was left wondering if she had said that she is of a different race, perhaps the outcome of the incident could have been different, but she will never know for sure.

"I just couldn't help but feel a bit hurt to be honest."

Living in the city ain’t a piece of cake but it could also be exciting and adventurous. How are you coping? How are you making the best out of things? Do you have a story or experience to share?

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Stay tuned for the next episode!

Previously on Malaysian City Life #24, Ahmad Helmi Shaharuddin shared about his decision to quit the corporate life and start afresh as a Takaful agent:

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