Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Dear, oh dear

If I thought I had bad job interviews before, they were nothing compared to today's fiasco.

I swear, it just can't get worse than this.

Last Thursday, I got a call from Balbir who told me that the lab job I had applied for through the Reed website wasn't as suitable for me as the science admin job she had for me in Burton on Trent. Seriously, she said, would I be interested in about £18,000 pa writing reports for an environmental analysis bunch.

Okay, I said. I looked up Burton on Trent and saw that it was two stops up the line from Birmingham and the stylised map Balbir sent me only lulled me further into a false sense of security.

I had arranged the day off (thereby losing myself a day's wages) and prepared as best I could for the interview. Now I've got a computer and broadband, research can be pretty comprehensive.

I got to Birmingham and went to the information desk for the next train to Burton On Trent. The background noise was terrific and the lady had to repeat the platform a couple of times before I heard "Ay". Thinking she said "Eight", I went to platform 8. No train.

But I did hear a call for a train going to Nottingham via Burton on Trent was going to be leaving 9 A.

I quickly went to 9A, only to come across a train with its doors closing and moving away. At least the guard at the rear of the train had the decency to turn around and say "Sorry, love" as the train left the platform at about 2 miles an hour.

I went back up the stairs to the Information kiosk to be told that the next train going to Burton on Trent would be leaving at 2:13.

Over 20 minutes away. That would meant I was cutting it fine, but I could get there just on time.

Oh, well. At least I had time to get to WH Smith before I got to the platform.

A quick trawl through the drinks and papers before I got to the platform to see a brand new Cross Country train waiting. I was one of the first on board and had my pick of the seats. So I sat, comfortably and watched the train fill up around me. And we all waited. And waited.

One family which seemed to consist of at least three generations of grandmother, mother and children, had a boisterous dog that the little girl of the group seemed be in charge of. Twice she let go of the lead and laughed as it galloped up and down the carriage heedless of everyone else on the train.


And we all carried on waiting.

The first clue we had that all was not well with the brand new train, was the sight of two uniformed men passing through the carriages, using an Allen key to open access panels above our heads. They pushed buttons inside the panels and closed the panels again before moving down the train to the next set of panels.

About fifteen minutes after we were supposed to be off, all the power went out. The power came back on again, but the LED sign board wouldn't work properly. Then we heard the driver apologise for the delay, but there were problems with the power. He didn't know when we would be off, but he was going to make sure that it would be as quickly as possible.

I rang the Agency. Balbir answered and I told her what the problem was. I told her, as I tiptoed through all the luggage, that I was going to get another train and that I was going to be late.

How late?

[How long is a piece of string these days?]

I told her that I didn't know. I had only just found out that the train was defective and I was going to find another Burton on Trent train ASAP.

Yes, but when was that going to be? What should she tell the client?

[I dunno!]

I told her that I would be an hour late. Would that be okay or would it be easier if we just cancelled?

No, she insisted, this was a brilliant chance it wasn't going to come around again, I really shouldn't cancel.

Just then I came across the next platform and a heavily packed train that was going my way. Behind me, the passengers of the train I had just got out of had been told the train had been cancelled and were also trying to heave themselves and all their luggage onto the train.

I was going to be an hour late then, and I would arrive for the interview at four not three.

Balbir told me that was okay(!) and I hung up. I managed to find a seat and the eventual trip to Burton on Trent was uneventful.

I arrived at Burton just as it started to rain. As I left the train station at around 3:15, I was struck by how much silver and metalwork I could see across the townscape. There seemed to be breweries as far as I could see. Hoppers, silos and brewing tanks literally dominated the skyline. There were even restored Victorian grain storage depots just as I left the station.

And the smell. Blimey O'Reilly! I am used to the smell of brewing. I lived and worked between Park Royal (Guinness) and Fulham (Fullers) for years and now live in Wolverhampton (Marstons) where, periodically the smell of brewing takes over the entire (albeit small) city.

But here! The smell was gross. Burton is a small place and there just seemed to be breweries all over the place. The smell was inescapable.

I walked down the hill away from the station in search of a cash machine. I was going to need a taxi and I the cash machine I passed in Sainsbury's on my way out of Wolverhampton was out of cash.

Down a hill towards the Coors brewery. The place was massive and took up two sides of the street at one point with an enclosed footbridge over the road.

I passed the offices and the car park and a sad little fountain. Sat within the perimeter railings, an old fountain passed for decoration within the grounds. Made out of beer kegs and keg spigots, it sat in a lawned area just inside the metal railings. With the neglected air of something that hadn't been turned on for some time, it just sat there in the middle of a dried up pond, all dessicated green slime and dirt and looking fairly ridiculous.

I found a Sainsbury's at the end of the road. With a huge two storey advert for Coors in a stairwell on the corner of the building. I asked inside for a cash machine and was directed outside again and told to follow the building round to the back of the store. The store was part of a large retail complex. It stood alone on one side of the car park with a series of shops as part of a large shopping centre on the other side.

I took out thirty pounds and started to walk back up the hill to the train station (and the cab rank). Balbir called.

When was I going to get to the interview?

[Remember, I had already told her I was going to be an hour late. I still had nearly thirty minutes to "showtime"]

I told Balbir that I was still running an hour late and that I would still be getting there for four.

Yes, she said, but could I get there any earlier?

Um, no.

Okay, she said, she would tell the client.

[Which begs the question, what had she told the client before?]

I passed the fountain again, got to the taxi rank and got a cab to the lab.

The map had lied. The place was nowhere near Burton on Trent. It was a good 10 to 15 miles out of the town in a business park that had been built on the outskirts of a little village called Bretby.

The taxi driver, even though he took the main and direct route still took nearly 20 minutes to get to the park. This did not bode well. If I got this job, this would entail over an hour and a half just to get to Burton and then nearly an hour by bus to this place. It was not doable.

The taxi driver turned off and greeted two men in hi-vi coats like old friends. One of them directed him to the side of a building where a couple of people were going in and out. I paid the driver and went in the door he took me to.

10 minutes later, I couldn't work out why all the internal doors were locked. There was no Reception and there was no one around to ask. What sort of place was this?

A grey haired man in a well padded hi-vi coat came out of one of the locked doors and asked me what I was doing.

I told him I was looking for Reception as I was there for an interview in Admin.

He took me up to an office where the lady behind the desk looked at me with some confusion.

Was I meant to be there?

I didn't know. I had an interview which I was late for and I had been told to ask for Reception.

[It was only at this late stage that I realised Balbir hadn't told me the name of the person who was going to interview me - BRILLIANT!!]

The grey haired PA to the Director then started to ring around until she found the woman I was supposed to meet.

The man in the hi-vi coat took me through the corridors of an old hotchpotch of a building that reminded me of my old school. All different levels, thickly polished lino and varnished wooden doors with windows so that passers by could see in.

The labs we passed had glassware, ovens and people in lab coats and safety specs and the labels on the doors had signs like "Soil" and "Water".

He left me at the front of the building with the Receptionist and I thanked him and signed in.

It was a full ten minutes before the Interviewer came down to collect me, which made me wonder if she was making some sort of point.

She was friendly enough, but I could see on her face that I didn't have a chance. If I couldn't get there for 3pm, how was I supposed to be there for work?

The interview was strained. Polite but strained. The inorganic chemistry side was very rusty, the agency hadn't sent much by way of detail about me and she had lost the second page of my cv. The first page had the Agency logo above my name address.

[Funny, I don't remember putting that there]

Could I write reports?


Was I familiar with Microsoft Office packages?


She kept labouring the hours of work.

They often asked for late evening working if they were trying to get a rush job out, would that be okay?


[Can I do late working? Of course!]

Then, just as I felt confident that this interrogation couldn't get any worse....... it got worse.

Someone rang me. In all the rush I'd forgotten to put the 'phone in "Silent" mode.

No one rings me. Only if it's an emergency or if it's a recruitment agency does anyone ring me. I'm so far away from anyone who would call me in an emergency that another 15minutes/half an hour won't make any difference. A recruitment call really can be left until it's easier for me to ring back. Either way, it doesn't need to be answered immediately.

All these thought were going through my head as I talked to the Interviewer. As my handbag buzzed beside me, I tried to talk over it and ignore it. I told the Interviewer to just ignore it.

Actually, could you switch it off?

[Oh, God!]

I retrieved the 'phone from the pocket of my handbag and started to press buttons.






Vibrate.....Vibe and Ring.....Loud......Soft.....Silent.....Vibrate

Doh, missed.

Vibrate....Vibe and Ring....Loud....Soft....Silent


I put the phone back into the handbag pocket and turned back to face the Interviewer across the desk.

There was an awkward moment.

This interview really isn't going very well, is it?

No she smiled, it isn't.

And then, the awkwardness vanished and we started to get on really well.

I suspect that she had started off worried that I was seriously thinking I would get this job. Perhaps she was worried about my reaction when the time came to turn me down. When I made it clear that I didn't think I had a snowflake's chance in Hell of getting the job, she could relax. There was no need for her to impart any bad news. I knew it already.

We both ended up slagging off the agency who sent me. I couldn't believe that they would send me all this way for an interview. She could. They hadn't even sent anyone over to see what sort of place it was at all. The agency had no idea that the lab was so remote.

We finished off and she took me downstairs to Reception. We shook hands and I told her it was a pleasure meeting her. She just smiled. And walked away as quickly as was polite.

Once out in the car park I found my 'phone and rang the Ansaphone.

It was Matt from another agency. I rang Matt and found out why he rang me.

Was I interested in a single day's work as a mystery shopper for Sunrise Senior Living Care Facilities?


All I had to do was pretend that I wanted to put my father or another relative in a home, contact Sunrise and make an appointment to see the place.

Um, no. I had full time temporary employment - I was just in the market for something full time and permanent.

Oh, well. If I was sure? They paid well and he thought of me because he knew I was in Wolverhampton.

Yep. Quite sure.

Well okay then.

I thanked him for thinking of me.

During this conversation, I was trying to work out where I was and where the Exit was. In the end, I decided to follow the trail of cars. No one could be trying to get into this place at what, a quarter to five?

Sure enough, the cars were heading for the gate I had gone through in the taxi an hour earlier. Just as I was in sight of the gate, Balbir rang. She wanted to know how it all went.


Why? What went wrong?

[Jesus, she was a total bimbo]

Well, I was an hour late....

That wasn't your fault - they can't blame you for that

And I went in the side staff entrance instead of the main entrance because that's where the taxi left me. And the place is so far away, that I don't think that it's feasible.

Would you accept the job if you were offered it?

No. And I don't think they will.

Why not?

[What the Hell? Was she retarded?]

Well it's so far away. The place is nowhere near Burton on Trent, it's miles out. Travelling here is just not feasible without a car.

Well, can you drive?

[If I could drive, why do you think I took the train, you dopey cow?]


Well, could you learn?


Not that fast.

Why do you think they won't offer you the job?

Well, I was an hour late. If I can't get there for 3pm how am I going to make an early start for say, 8am.

I suppose

And besides, I think they were looking for someone who had more recent knowledge of inorganic chemistry.


I really am quite rusty, and I'm pretty sure that my lack of confidence was really obvious.

So it was a bit of a waste of time then.

[A bit?]

Yep. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm stuck in an industrial park miles away from the train station and I've got to be thinking about how to get back home.

Oh. Okay.

And that was the last time I heard from that idiot. She had no idea where this place was and couldn't help me with directions.

There was a small footpath running along the road. Earlier, in the taxi, I had seen bus stops and a few houses. I had a tenner to crack before I could think about getting a bus.

I turned left (towards Burton) and walked. My feet were killing me. Twenty minutes later, I came across a Premier Inn. With a pub attached. Well, I could do with a drink.

I walked in and ordered a Diet Coke. I got the change and went over to the back of the room to see the view over Bretby. Total countryside. It really was the middle of nowhere.

Finishing my drink, I went to the toilet and went outside to the bus stop. And waited. A bus finally showed up about ten past six. £1.70 later, I went on a magical mystery tour of the villages around Burton on Trent starting with Brizlincote.

Nearly three quarters of an hour later, and having trundled past Coors buildings wherever we went, we ended up in a part of Burton that I'd never seen before. Terrific.

I walked into a nearby shopping centre. Although the shops were closed, there were still people walking through it. I stopped a lady and asked for the train station. She stopped her mate the Security Guard who told me that if I walked out the entrance dead ahead and carried on across the car park as if I were going to Sainsbury's.....

[Ah ha!]

Then if I carried on walking, the train station was at the top of the road.

I thanked him and carried on.

Stopping at Sainsbury's for papers (Wednesday is Jobs Day up here), drinks and snacks, I carried on walking (past the decrepit fountain) and got to the train station. Just for interest, I asked the guy at the counter what the monthly season ticket was from Wolverhampton to Burton on Trent.


Where do they get the small change from? Why not just make it £222 per month and be done with it?

I waited for the train to Birmingham. It was a loooooong time coming. Trains passed through at some speed quite regularly but the train to Brum only arrived at around twenty past seven.

I read through the papers. Nope. Although there were pages of jobs, there were none going in central Burton on Trent. Loads in Derby though.

And then there was the train to Wolverhampton (stopping at Smethwick Rolfe Street, Smethwick Galton Bridge, Sandwell and Dudley, Tipton, Coseley and, finally, Wolverhampton) before the painful walk to the bus station and a quick jog to the bus before finally limping home.

Jesus, what a day.

A day's wages lost, the best part of £45 wasted (£12.50 on the train fare alone, £30 quid in cash taken out, £10 for the taxi, £1.70 for the bus etc) and nothing to show for it.