It’s never been my goal to work for a large corporation. I’ve always desired a life in the arts – at first I attended drama school because I wanted to be an actor, now I am a writer. I respect those who choose to go the corporate route, but I knew it wouldn’t be my endgame. The competitive spirit of capitalism didn’t interest me much, and I knew I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, chase money in a job I despised for very long. My mother always says I’ll never be rich, but I’ll always be happy. But when reality kicked in I knew I’d have to chase some cash elsewhere if I was going to eat. Writing isn’t exactly lucrative. I have worked since I was fifteen and know what hard work is – in cafés, bars, stable yards, museums, production houses, childcare, tutoring – you name it, I’ve hustled it. Through university I had two (sometimes three) jobs. I’m not trying to show off, but wish firstly to dispel the concept that young, artistic people like me are work shy, lazy or idealistic. That ain’t it.
I live in London, by the way, the most expensive city in the world, but decided to stay after graduating because it’s been four years, and I have pushed roots down in this godforsaken place. In doing so, I have been gradually and thoroughly worn down by non-corporate life. Even my bright, performative, work-positive attitude has been dulled by full time wage labour. Since graduating from a Russell Group university in July of last year, six months ago, I have been applying for jobs upon jobs upon jobs, while working as a barista, an events assistant and a tutor (three jobs. Told you). I have regularly done work days that started at 7am and finished at 1am the next day. It’s been hard. I assumed I’d be fine, although everyone warned that graduate life was grim. I fancied an intellectually stimulating and interesting job would come quick and fast. After all, I did get a First, was an editor of the university newspaper, and worked a million jobs by the time I was 23. I assumed that if I kept going, something would come my way, something other than pouring coffee. I chuckle at my undergraduate self, making all these assumptions, lying around taking selfies, living easy. I’m glad I was supremely lazy with my free time at university. I’m glad I barely did anything. What I wouldn’t give to do nothing now.
What I’ve learned this year is that no matter how much you’ve done, it’s hard to squeeze through those Linkedin gaps. To be noticed on paper when hundreds of people apply for the same entry level job, is to be a needle in the haystack of corporate recruitment. You feel invisible, you feel impossible, and your overdraft is getting smaller. You feel tired all, all, all the time, both physically and mentally, when working fifty five hours per week leaves your bank account empty still at the end of the month. (I have put every spare penny away to a savings account, which required titanous self discipline.) You carry on applying, writing cover letter after cover letter, bigging yourself up for the employers, to be ignored or written a mass ‘sorry, you’re not what we’re looking for’ email. I have some clients for whom I write copy – corporate blogs, things like that – but nothing steady, nothing reliable.
Another valuable lesson for absolutely everyone reading this is that hospitality is the hardest job. It just is. I see your office job, I raise you £8.50 per hour, being yelled at because the latte isn’t hot enough, skin splitting on your hands from too much water exposure, everything you own smelling of coffee and fried food, no respect from an employer to whom you are both invaluable and worthless, and – here it is again – no money to do anything except maybe go out for dinner and a film this week.
After seven months of this life, there appeared a window. A little freckled bit of light at the end of the tunnel. I had uploaded my CV to a recruitment website, and, bingo! I was invited to interview at a marketing outsourcing company. A good one, at that. They began in the US just four years ago and have grown into Europe, and grown fast. Okay, I thought, this isn’t what I want to do with my life, but it’s something. If I gain office experience I can transfer it to an organisation that I care about. It might be great money, so I can keep saving up for my life that’s apparently supposed to start soon. It might even be fun. There wasn’t much information about the job… In fact, no, there was no information at all about the job they wanted to interview me for. I went along anyway.
The first stage was a group interview. I showed up, in business attire, as requested, with my bleached blue hair with dark brown roots scraped into a seemingly businesslike bun. (Can a bun be businesslike if it’s blue? I’ve never seen an office worker with colourful hair.) I did my makeup tastefully, donned my only proper work shirt that I got on sale at Uniqlo, polished my black brogues. I brought a notepad and pen and my CV, which they took from me at the door, and told me to sit. I played Candy Crush on my phone and waited for someone to shout my name. I was quite bored, already. In the room, the interviewer went through our availability, our strengths, all that jazz. And that was it. Goodbye, go home. We will call you tonight.
At 6pm that day, I’m sitting down in the cinema, and my phone lights up – I’ve got a second interview! I open the email during the trailer for Mark Ruffalo’s new film about the American government poisoning its residents through their water (really, the warning signs were all there. Thanks, universe):
‘We are excited to invite you in for a second round interview and want to again say well done on making such a positive impression so far. We would now like to take a little more time to help you understand our business, and conduct a more in depth evaluation of your suitability for the position.We have your interview scheduled for 7:30 AM, and encourage you to set aside two hours.’ So, 13 hours from now. They have scheduled me an interview in 13 hours, and I will be at work in 13 hours, in the job I already have. I shot back a quick and polite reply – I can’t let my employers down at short notice, please allow us to reschedule another time. In the morning, I email them again, call them twice, to no reply. Until the afternoon rolled around, and I’m summoned for the next day, also at 7.30am. Who the fuck has a business interview in the office before sunrise? Sociopaths? Yes. Sociopaths.
It’s 7.30am and I’m in their office, dog tired and trying to remember what ROI stands for, whilst employees in cheap suits flail in from the street with Pret a Manger white americanos in one hand, iPhones in the other, and there’s 90s R&B playing in the reception area. Loudly. I still don’t know what the job is that I’m interviewing for. I mean, really, I literally do not know. I have been given no information.
A young, irritatingly spritely American man invites me into a room for the interview. He asks, ‘Where have you travelled in from this morning?’ ‘Hackney Wick,’ I reply. ‘Oh. But are you planning to move into London if you are given the position?’ I’m already annoyed and it’s not even begun. ‘I live in Canary Wharf. I love it there. I wanted to keep a good standard of living, so that’s where I settled on.’ Of course. Of course you “settled” on Canary Wharf. He proceeds with the interview, which wasn’t, indeed, an interview at all, but a note-taking exercise, in which he has my CV in front of him and refers to it a total of zero times, using the time instead to explain to me how great the company is, the kind of marketing they do, and the role available to me, which is nothing like what I wanted at all, not even in the office, really, and I’m really fucking wound up now, because I got up at 5.30am to come here, and this guy doesn’t even know what Hackney is, and this company is meant to be wealthy but their office is dirty, there are cheesy neon signs everywhere, and I can STILL hear the receptionist singing along to Beyoncé’s Me, Myself and I. Breathe, Madeleine. He’s moving on to personal anecdotes. Oh, good.
‘I went backpacking around South America. It was supposed to be good, but it wasn’t,’ he whitters, ‘But in Argentina I had a really cool experience, I went into a lion’s den!’ My bullshit meter is on 1000, but I bite. ‘A lion’s den?’ ‘Yes, so what they do is, they give the lions so many shots that they can’t even really see anything, so you can touch them, do whatever you want, wave in their face and they can’t really react. It was so cool.’ He used the word ‘cool’ a lot. He was also, I’d realised by this point, a total fucking cunt. ‘Oh,’ I replied, pretending to write something down, to distract my gag reflex. He doesn’t take the hint; ‘Oh yeah, and then I went to Venezuela, man, that place is so tragic, it was so cool for me to see.’ Bloody hell, so many things are cool in this world! Animal abuse? Cool! Economic war, food shortages and inflation? SO. FUCKING. COOL!
My lovely interviewer continues, now, to discuss the company’s biggest clients. With a smile, he states, ‘You know, our biggest client is Shell. One of the biggest companies in the world. They’ve funded us opening 43 new offices.’ Now’s a time for me to ask a question, through thinly veiled contempt: ‘Have you ever experienced backlash for working with them?’ Wrong question. His face dropped. ‘How so?’ I was ready for him – ‘Well, I read recently someone glued themselves to the Shell office in environmental protest. Do you have trouble branding them?’ My man was on fire for this answer; ‘Well, you know, some people are like, lalala, you’re killing the Earth, but whatever, they’re one of the biggest companies in the world.’ Alright, then. Environmentalism=debunked. Conversation over. Time for the pay breakdown – absolute trash (I literally make more working as a barista) for the first few weeks, but I could be making £1000 per week in three months’ time, if I work hard enough. I could really do with that. Can I let the lion thing go? The Venezuela thing? The SHELL thing? Cooooooooooool.
I was subsequently handed a questionnaire, in order for me to regurgitate all the information about the company he spewed at me in the lecture (“interview” is too generous a term). Then, a third interview, a final chat with a nice man who asked me why I wanted to work there. I said some bullshit buzzwords and left. As I walked back through the lobby, still aglow with 90s R&B classics and a palpable sense of dread, I can hear thumping dance music in the next room, and lots of cheering and chanting about targets. Staff training day. Outside I called my mum and yelled down the phone, ‘I would rather make coffee until the day I actually die,’ then went to work, to make coffee, until the day I actually die.
6pm. A phone call. ‘Congratulations, you got the job! There were over 40 candidates! You must be so happy!’ I replied slowly, ‘Actually, I’m going to have to say no to you. Your employee, the one you chose to represent the company, displayed some pretty deplorable qualities.’ At which point I went for his neck, via phone line, about everything Mr. Big Balls I Live In Canary Wharf And Cry Myself To Sleep At Night said. Silence on the phone. ‘… Thank you for your feedback. Good luck with everything. Goodbye.’ Whoopsie. I think I punctured the capitalism.
I’m not trying to portray myself as an anti-capitalist hero. I still work for a company, and a company who I often fantasise about shoving it to, too. It’s not like I won, and they lost. They’ll have called someone else straight after me, and given them the job instead. They’ll continue working with Shell, cracking jokes about unfunny world crises, and making more money I could ever even dream about. I wondered, later that night, if my interviewer got any flack from his boss about what he said to me. Either that, or they all shared a good laugh about my snowflake attitude. I hope the former, I suspect the latter. However small and meaningless my action was, I’m proud of it. It’s so easy to take the money, and get out of minimum wage work, and I don’t judge anyone who does. Like my mother always says, I’ll never be rich, but at least I can look myself in the mirror and see someone who I respect. That, I’ll never sell off. No matter the cost.
Madeleine Goode is a writer based in London. She is always looking for writing opportunities.
Instagram and Twitter: @goodegracious