LONDON - Finding a job in London could be considered as one of the easiest things to do there. If you’re not picky and just need a source of income, one will be staring at you within the first fifteen blocks you walk, as many bars and restaurants display large paper sheets in their windows with the promising ‘help wanted’ sign.
I lived with five roommates, who all worked in the hospitality industry, and was listening to their adventure stories virtually daily, so the appeal was simply not there. Unpaid shifts, skimming from the pulled tip jar, lower than the minimum hourly wage, shouting and neurotic bosses, unexpected and unpaid holidays…no, thank you.
England is exceptionally developed online and usually you can find all you need by simply surfing the Internet. The two best sites for job searches are Monster and Gumtree, so I uploaded my CV on to both and applied for a couple of listings the same day. A few hours later I had several e-mails inviting me for interviews and a phone call from an agency that provided staffing services for luxury brands. I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded fancy and when the immigrant assistant finally constructed a comprehendible sentence and asked me if I would be interested in coming in for an interview, I said yes. The big fun started when she hung up and I received a formal confirmation in my e-mail with an attachment that held a ten page manual regarding what to wear for the interview. There were instructions on how to apply my lipstick, where to paint my eyelids (and where not), the allowed cut of a jacket and my personal favorite – what kind of a pencil skirt to match with it.
At first I laughed. Was it all a joke? Were they seriously expecting me to buy new clothes just for some agency interview? In New York this would’ve been enough of a signal for a scam, but something in me remained intrigued and I indulged in a quick last-minute shopping spree the following morning.
I arrived at the agency for my appointment and it became clear that my choice of a suit was completely off, and they only wanted me to buy their own, much more expensive one. “You can do it later this week, though,” the secretary cooed and I decided that provided I get a spot at some Chanel or Dior enterprise, I might as well.
The place was spacious, very light and somewhat inspiring. There were about two dozen other candidates crowding the meeting room and it was explained to us that it was going to be a group interview. After hours of waiting, they handed us applications to fill out and asked us to prepare a short presentation about ourselves. The previous secretary, or assistant (no one introduced us properly) came and turned on a large flat screen with questions we would be asked to answer: What’s so special about you that we should hire you? What would you take home from Harrods? Tell us about your best experience, etc. Nothing complicated and nothing any one of us couldn’t answer.
Another hour later, two more assistants came in, prepared to take notes and called us up on our feet to “advertise” our awesomeness (seemingly one of Londoners’ favorite words). It all went down in quite a mundane manner and I heard a lot of personal information that was mainly presented in similarly mispronounced and unstructured English. I think we were all very nervous and it was obvious that these people genuinely wanted to get one of those luxury names on their CVs.
I got a call back the same evening and was offered a position at an exclusive group interview for Louis Vuitton that same week. Needless to add that I was more than willing to purchase the overpriced black suit and glossy-heel shoes they claimed to be mandatory.
The morning I found myself strutting down New Bond Street to the trendy LV headquarters was wet and dreary. My feet were soaking, clothes damp and hair far from the perfection necessary to be as much as considered for any of the positions. Several long and very white corridors later we were all seated around a large black table in an environment that matched all the fashion offices I’d seen in the movies. It was either that, or the fact that we were uncertain about what exactly they were hiring for, but by this point I was jittery and streaming my anxiety on Facebook, hoping for my friends to do the magic and convince me that I am awesome enough.
Four women wearing the same neatly polished black stout shoes with cubicles for heels introduced us to the company and their job titles that all sounded so luxurious that they left me ready to take the janitor’s position just to be able to be a part of such a tremendous company. Then came the same routine with self-presentations, and to my surprise I realized that out of twenty people, the Asians and the Eastern Europeans took the cake – five Baltic girls and various guys from China, Korea, Japan and Burma. The rest were split between French, Spanish, British and American. The most amazing fact was that the only two people coming from the same city were the two girls from Riga – the city the size of a pine cone in comparison to the rest of Europe and Asia.
For the two group activities we were asked to design a clothing item from newspapers for a particular target audience and then come up with a catchy selling point for it. And for the last icing on the already delightful cake, they split us up into different teams and, after supplying thirty five sheets of paper to each team, asked us to make a construction that would go as high up from the ground as possible.
As someone who has taught Business English for the past three years and has come up with similar group exercises, I knew none of these tasks made any sense; they were simply providing a natural environment for them to monitor our characteristics and see if we would fit into the glamorous world of this divine heritage label. While on one such round of watching us, I asked one of the fashion ladies how their Creative Director Marc Jacobs could manage such a big brand as LV, at the same time being the man behind his own women’s, men’s and children’s lines. She simply raised her chin and exclaimed, “Why he’s not always here! Of course one man can’t do all that, there are other people working on all those ideas.” And with that last statement my all-time awe for the fashion industry that had been obtained watching documentaries about Valentino and Karl Lagerfeld, who not only oversees all the work but even shoots the models for the magazine ads himself, was shattered eternally.
All of that proclaimed devotion and love for the end product, and suddenly I couldn’t see who were the people enjoying it in this company. Aside from their employee discounts, how much did they really care about this so-called legacy? Maybe there was something about those brand names that were “alive” up to date.
When the fuss around the paper piles was over, they kindly offered us sandwiches and other refreshments. I passed by one of the stylish ladies on my way out and she pleasantly said goodbye, kindly pronouncing my name. I guess her remembering it after such a short time was supposed to impress me, but walking down the stairs I had the feeling that this pencil skirt suit might not be for me after all.