The Jobcentre Cannot Hold

‘The NHS is good, but people expect too much for free. They should pay for their care.’

An animated Filipino nurse with two financier sons chats to me in the anteroom, while I wait for my interview. She is amiable, soft-spoken, but somehow exudes the air that she takes no nonsense whatsoever from her patients. She changes topic regularly. She’s been to Japan, saw a sumo tournament there, admires the cultural unity of Japan. Some of the nurses on her ward are too fat. I should keep travelling the world. One of her sons lives in Hong Kong, and ‘you don’t know what you’re eating there. It could be snake meat.’ It’s all a bit jumbled, but much more interesting than staring into space, and no more rambling than I can be at times.

I’ve come to interview for a job I saw online- something to do with Management training for a marketing company. Not really my kind of role, but the management experience would be nice, and since I’m local anyway there’s not much to lose. The job advert wasn’t particularly descriptive, and as I wait, I become gnawingly aware that I can’t remember much of what I read. Eventually, my name is called by a man standing in the doorway.

office random

‘Nice to meet you. I’m Brandon’, he says, muffled and indistinct, walking while shaking my hand.
‘Randall?’
‘Yes, that’s right.’
Brandon/Randall has an expressive face, prominent eyes and a small, slightly irritating goatee. He ushers me into a cubicle of a room and sits me down. He says my name far too often, as if he’s just taken his first class in Hypnotic Suggestion and is a bit too keen to try it out. Or perhaps he heard my error and he’s taking the piss.

‘Hi Lewis, the thing is, Lewis, we just wanted to invite you in here today for a first meeting, Lewis, and find out a bit about you, and what motivates you.’
He asks a few warm-up questions- what gets me out of bed in the morning, what kind of company I want to work for. He misses the chance to grill me on my star sign. I offer a soup of incoherent buzzwords and platitudes. Everything I give him is ‘exactly what we’re looking for’, which isn’t strictly false since I’m describing the basic qualities required for a competent, enthusiastic employee.
Then he hits me with the sucker punch. ‘So what job role were you attracted to, Lewis, on our website?’

Damn. I thought you might know, Rando.

I mumble something about Management development and account management, wanting to learn new skills and client-facing desk ornaments.

‘Yes, that’s a very popular role. Here at *?!&&^*, Lewis, we don’t believe in recruiting management from the top, we believe in training them up. In time, you can have your own office, have ten people working under you’, says Brandom.

He continues on for a little while,  ostensibly explaining what the company does to me and yet somehow saying almost nothing of substance. It’s more like a job pitch than a job interview. It was already clear that Bramble had never read or even seen my CV, even though they had me send it across on two separate occasions. However, a new, horrifying sensation is washing over me.

I don’t think Brandy knows what job he’s interviewing me for.

I start to run through the options in my mind. Is it a pyramid scheme? He seems enthusiastic about inviting me to some sort of open day, which could be an opportunity to festoon me with some nutrient bars, gym supplements or resin-embalmed woodlice to sell. Could it be a cult? No, the whole thing isn’t playing on my insecurities half enough. Ransom draws a flowchart on a piece of paper outlining the career ahead of me. The boxes seem to be placed, and to join up, at random.

Is it really possible? Is it possible that we’re sitting here, two actual adults in a business setting, and neither of us knows what job I’m interviewing for? At this point, I am only half listening, and making positive noises at what I think are appropriate intervals. In my mind, we are playing chess in the ruins of an apartment building in a warzone.

‘Diligence’, says Rangle, whisking his bishop across the board to sweep my rook away.
‘Development’, I say, enthroning my pawn on the far side of the board.
‘Brand awareness’ says Bandana, moving one of his own knights backward to force my hand. In the distance, the bombs continue to fall.

Back in the real world, a short interview is wrapping up. Banjam asks me what I’m doing at the weekend. Since I’m pretty sure I don’t want, and won’t be offered, whatever job this is, there’s no harm in honesty.

‘I’m off to a d’n’b night in London. And you?’

He pauses. ‘Actually, Lewis, I’m doing some motivational speaking at the Shard. You know the Shard? We booked a room at the top.’

I look around me a little at the small, unobtrusive suburban office, and back at Branjo. He looks sincere. Oh really? Motivational speaking at the Shard? I’m sure you’ll be received well by Elon Musk and Beyoncé. And Marilyn Monroe. I hope it’s not spoiling it for all of them to tell you that, after the speech, our man behind the desk’s gonna be impromptu base jumping into a champagne lake outside London Bridge.

Alright. Time to go. ‘Speak to you soon, Randall’, I say, with feeling.
‘It’s Brandon’, says Brandon. He smiles. I apologise.

shanghai basejump

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

I have friends who are conspiracy-minded, who see grandiose government plans and corporate plots everywhere they look. I can even fall victim to this mindset at times: this week in the States, the Iowa caucuses have been a rolling clusterfuck, and there’s no end of half-plausible theories about who might gain from the chaos.

However, I’m normally unpersuaded by these kinds of theories. Some of my friends think I’m too naive, and just trust the narrative that’s placed in front of me. In fact, they’re wrong. It’s not that I’m not skeptical of received truth. It’s just that, a lot of the time I think people walk around this Earth without a clue what they’re doing. They assume they’re part of some bigger plan, but perhaps there is no central story tying everything together. Even if there is a bigger plan, people on the ground aren’t properly informed, and are winging it, and are convincing themselves they’re doing something focussed and cunning while they flail randomly.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, most of the time, humans aren’t nearly co-ordinated or omnipotent enough to manage vast, sprawling plots. Most people aren’t pawns in elaborate games of 5D chess played by world leaders. On an average day, we’re far more likely to be bit parts in a play we haven’t rehearsed, guessing the lines based on our prompts, wondering if we’re fooling the audience. We assume that in the backrooms of business conventions and the hallowed halls of government, it must be different, but there’s every possibility that it isn’t. This might seem like an elaborate lesson to draw from a job interview, but sometimes truth is dumber than fiction.

2 comments

  1. Love this one, bloody Brandall – sounds like a recruiter. The end is so true; nobody knows what’s going on, we’re all fumbling through life.

    Like

  2. Long time supporter, and thought I’d drop a comment.

    Your wordpress site is very sleek – hope you don’t mind
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    Keep up the good work– and hope you all take care
    of yourself during the coronavirus scare!

    Like

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