To anybody who’s had a bad audition or interview.
Paul signed in at the front desk. It was his first callback since starting, which had given him hope. Not for an acting role – that would’ve been amazing and he would’ve told everyone he knew. At this point in his career, that would be winning. Validation.
No, this was to join an exclusive agency for premium brand sales representatives. So the work would mostly involve offering to spray people with perfume or aftershave, and generally dressing well and standing upright for ten hour shifts with breaks so short they verged on inhuman. He’d heard the stories about people using their entire break to get across the shop floor and to the staff bathrooms, so they never had time to eat anything.
Paul chose to look on the upside, though: it would be like a free diet. Not that he really needed to lose any weight. Perhaps convert a bit of it to muscle. Maybe standing up all day would do it?
He was shown to a beautifully furnished room where he was allowed to sit on a velvet-covered sofa in the company of the competition who had arrived earlier and selected finer furnishings to cushion their behinds. There were fine vases on precarious-looking stands, that would only need a delicate push or clumsy move to fall down.
The interview was meant to start at ’10am on the dot’, which was verbatim how it had been written in the email, in bold text along with phrases like ‘smart attire’ and ‘this is not an interview’. It was a selection process. Like acting. Meaning you could be turned down by the ‘casting director’ – a self-given title from the depths of her superiority complex – because she simply didn’t like you.
Paula – the casting director – liked to keep her candidates as stressed as possible. It wasn’t good practice in an office – or, ironically, for her employees. who were frequently fired for being just a few minutes late for a shift despite the consequences of such an absence being so minor it might go unnoticed. But Paula cared about branding. She cared about image. The service she operated had to have the highest levels of professionalism.
Finally, she sauntered in at 10:20. One candidate had already left. “This is ridiculous, I have an audition,” he said. One down, thought Paul.
Paula took up a chair that had been placed in the centre of the room in anticipation of her arrival at around 10:10. The deployment of the chair was meant to increase the tension in the room. It always happened at 10:10, so the candidates who had started talking would stop. Paula could come in at any moment.
With her arrival came a cloud of Prada perfume.
“I have your CVs here,” she clucked, holding out her hand to receive them from an assistant standing at her shoulder. She proceeded to trim the fat immediately.
“What perfume am I wearing?”
“Not a good start, Justin. It’s Prada. And I see here you have just one year of drama school?”
Paul and one or two others squirmed in their seats slightly. She preferred employees who were fully trained.
She made a black mark in the corner of Justin’s CV and moved on.
“If you had a magic wand, what three things would you wish for?”
“World peace,” Sarah said confidently, “and enough money to pay off my mum’s mortgage and my tuition fees, and…”
“Interesting naivety. Thank you Sarah.” Another mark in the corner. Another CV.
“Hello,” Paul replied.
“Sell me that magic wand.”
Paul paused a moment. He was already feeling a strange mixture of fear, discomfort and anger at this process and the woman who was in charge of it. His gut told him something else he’d like to do with her stupid wand, but instead he said, “it’s made of hand carved English Oak and is powered by brimstone and a genuine angel’s feather.”
Paula blinked at him and, after a second’s pause, replied “surprising for a one-year.”
This went on a while, with questions ranging from “what do you think you’re doing here, Jake?” to “Susan, how long can you hold your breath underwater, multiplied by the number of members in your favourite band?”
Finally, the questions ended. Everyone had some sort of mark at the top corner of their CVs. Paula handed the pile to the left one, who translated and sorted them into successful and unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Paula explained when the last phase would be, and what successful candidates would be asked to wear.
“You all brought your diaries I hope. The next phase will be on Tuesday the twentieth,” she said.
“Tuesday’s the twenty-second,” Paul couldn’t help but pipe up.
Paula glared at him a moment and conferred with one of her assistants, who then handed the sorted pile back.
“Jake, Sarah, Hope, Candice, Guy, Anastasia, Janek. Everyone else, thank you very much, we won’t be calling you back.”
“What?” Paul said, rising from his chair. The other unsuccessfuls gathered their things and started walking to the door.
“Sorry if it’s disappointing. But we have a very high standard here.”
“Yes, I can tell. Which has no clear criteria. You just pick… what? What do you base your judgement on, exactly?”
Paula looked back at her seven successful CVs and sorted them, acting like Paul had already left.
“Safe journey home,” the right-hand assistant said, stepping forward to place a polite but firm hand on Paul’s shoulder.
Paul moved with the hand, and noticed he had the attention of the room – except for Paula. His eyes went to the vase by the door. He resisted against the hand a moment – enough for him to feel the pressure increase – then tripped on the edge of the rug and sent the vase toppling with a satisfying crash.
“And we’ll be emailing you the bill for that.”
“For an accident? A vase that you placed here to what, get at people who you succeed in riling? You’re welcome to,” Paul turned back to say, “but you’ve got ten witnesses, angry at you, who all saw your assistant push me.”
Paula hesitated for a moment, for once, and tried to shout a final word at him, but Paul had already gone with a trail of people behind him, all whispering and laughing back at her.