It’s taken a long time for me to write this down, but I hope I can do it justice: this was the worst job interview of my life. It’s laughable now, but at the time, I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. The experience shook my confidence and undermined my faith in humanity (just a little). I’ve shared a short version of this story on Aliljoy.com, that you can read here. If you want the detailed version though, keep reading!
Newly graduated and having returned home from a hectic summer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I finally made a (half-hearted) start to my jobsearch in early September 2013. I’d been home just a few weeks, and on the dole just a few days when I was invited to interview at a company I’d never heard of before. I had no way of knowing how they’d got my contact details, but I’d signed up to so many job-sites since signing-on that I’d lost track. I didn’t realise you could be invited to interview, out of the blue, without applying for anything… I was a tad worried it was a scam.
Quintet Group brand themselves as an “outsource marketing” company. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but I gave them a fairly thorough googling before I went along to my first interview. Their website wasn’t exactly enlightening, nor was it well-designed. But I went along nonetheless, wary but curious, and aware it could be good for interview “practice”.
It was pissing with rain and I was wearing Bella’s lovely velvet jacket (Bella was wearing one of my jackets while she and Felix went to explore Norwich Castle). I completed various forms and questionnaires as I waited to be seen – the receptionist said she loved the jacket, while I decided not to comment on the height of her heels. When I finally went into the office, it was was cold and the boss, Mr Morton, conducted the interview at high speed. He neglected to provide an explanation of the actual job, but instead talked his way round it, explaining that this was one of several branches of Quintet Group, each branch representing one of many clients… blah!
Later, eating Fish and Chips at the pub with Bella and Felix, I got an email inviting me back for a second round interview, at 11am the next day. It said I should dress in business attire, that I should cancel all other plans and be prepared for adverse weather conditions, because we would be out of the office. It was phrased to sound like there would be various rounds throughout the day, and only successful candidates would be asked to stay until 8pm. Hmmm…
My curiosity had not been quenched; I still wanted to know what the job involved, so I went back. Returning to the office the next morning, I was struck by how many people they claimed to employ, and how little space there was to accommodate them: there were only two offices side-by-side, and a drafty hallway… in fact, there was nowhere to go to the loo!! My request was met with surprise, and the receptionist had to “check” before giving me a definite no. This was seeming less professional and more like a scam every second…
Oh! the situations we get ourselves into:
I was one of only two interviewees on day two. At the time I thought that might be an indication of my calibre as a candidate. But I realised later that everyone else had probably seen through the thinly veiled desperation – badly concealed as professionalism of the whole scenario. Although I can’t remember the exact details, I want to say the other candidate was called Gary. In my mind’s eye, he looked like a Gary. Greasy, grimy, Gary. Gary and I were called into Mr Morton’s office to meet our interviewer. I think this guy’s name was Christian. He was a bit of a sleaze. More than a bit. We were going to be ‘out of the office’ under Christian’s watchful eye for most of the day, and would only come back for a third round interview with Mr Morton “if we were successful” during the day.
There were various moments at which I felt uncomfortable, but the worst came early on. The first thing we were required to do, was follow Christian and his lard-arsed colleague to this fatso’s car, and to get in. We stood in a wet car park with Christian who smoked and told us about all the company’s clients (LoveFilm and various unheard-of charities, among others) while greasy colleague (let’s go for desperate Dan) cleared the back seat of children’s car seats and food debris. We were then told to get into the car. For the sake of a job I didn’t know I wanted (or didn’t want, as it turned out), I got into a greasy stranger’s car with three unknown men and no idea where I was being driven or whether I would ever see my family again. I could have been raped, pillaged and killed. Luckily, I wasn’t. But that’s the kind of situation no-one wants to get into, and one I shouldn’t have let myself get into.
Mum said later that she thought it was very interesting that I noted my own discomfort at the time, and yet still went along with the instructions. I could have stated my outrage at the time, told them all to go fuck themselves and walked away from a shit job about six hours earlier than I did. But, alas, I got in the car.
We parked up on the side of the road. Greasy colleague Dan left us in the back of the car to be lectured by Christian. He then began the most analogical explanation of the job, using the example of a restaurant-owner employing someone to take over the business in his absence. It was highly convoluted, but his point was that you must train someone small task by small task, until they can do everything well enough to train someone else. It was sounding like there would be a lot of learning and also a lot of training other people in this job. There was also a mention of pride, pride that must be put aside to make significant progress in this job.
We walked to the target area for the day and Christian finally explained the first level of the ‘training scheme’ as he was now calling it. The first ‘stage’ of the ‘scheme’, which takes most people between ten days and two weeks, was door-to-door sales. He demonstrated, asking Gary and I to watch from a distance of two houses ahead and behind respectively, going through a spiel of crap about some charity and trying to persuade unsuspecting people to donate money. This was what their website had meant by ‘outsource marketing’ then. Right.
It got to a point at which I had been standing outdoors in the cold and drizzling rain, I hadn’t eaten for several hours, I was desperate to pee and I knew I didn’t want the job, but I stayed anyway. I could see now why they say curiosity killed the cat. Finally, as we had lunch sitting outside a booky’s, Christian explained how the ‘training scheme’ worked. It turned out to be a pyramid scheme, working on commission. And door-to-door sales was not only the first few weeks of the job but the first eight months! Imagine doing that day after day after day throughout winter. It would be shit even if it wasn’t cold. Not only is rejection incredibly demoralizing anyway, but you don’t get paid unless you can convince someone to give you their bank details and sign up for monthly payments towards something they neither want or need. I don’t believe there are enough people stupid enough to do that in the whole world ever to make a decent living out of it.
Christian chatted away, all the time stuffing his mouth full of homemade cheap-white-bread-and-spreadable-cheese sandwiches, telling us his plans to set up an office in Norwich, then five around Marseille, then five in another area of southern France. As if he will ever make enough money to do that, doing this job. How on earth was fatso Dan making enough to support children, run a car and pay rent? Christian told us about a very clever, business-minded young woman who had risen through the ranks and was now making upwards of “twenty grand” a month, or something mad like that. I didn’t believe him, and nor did I want to focus just on making money in my first job out of Uni.
After lunch we went into the Booky’s to go to the loo. I took my time, enjoying the shelter and also trying to work out what on earth to say and do next. Now I knew what I would be signing up for, I could finally make an informed decision. Unfortunately, my choice would have been no different had I followed my gut instinct as much as 24 hours before. I asked Christian for a quiet word, and told him I didn’t think it was right for me. I said it as politely as I could muster, saying I wanted to go straight into the arts. He tried to dissuade me, saying he had been planning to recommend me to Mr Morton as a good candidate, and reminding me of what I could do with the money that was just out there, waiting to be made.
Sorry, what? I have a first class degree, andyou think this is what I want to be doing? Yes, I could be good at this job. I could be brilliant at a million jobs. But I would get bored as hell after two days of door-to-door sales. Moreover, I’d rather shoot myself in the foot than commit to working alongside such ignorant, misogynistic dolts for the next year. I didn’t say that. I simply said I had made up my mind, thanked him for the opportunity, and walked away.
Minutes later I burst into tears on the phone to my Dad from the Lidl carpark, shaking with anger and adrenaline (and probably cold, too) asking him to pick me up. Bella, who was staying with me at the time, couldn’t believe I had stayed as long as I did – everyone was impressed with both my staying power (curiosity) and my leaving power.
I never wanted to see any of those men ever again. Alas, Bella and I saw them again on the Megabus from Norwich to London, four days later. They were sat right behind us but we didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves by moving seats, so we just kept pretty quiet. I had two job interviews lined up that week (and actually got both the jobs)… but seeing them was enough to get me seething nonetheless.
The moral of my story, I think, is trust your instincts, and follow your heart. I’m hardly the best role model – I get sucked into things all too easily – but don’t get talked into doing something you’re not interested in, or that conflicts with your morals and sense of self.