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By Florence Reeves-White


When you're desperate for a job after uni, it's easy to ignore red flags in interviews. But, as Florence shares in this account, it is important to stand by what you know is right and recognise bad behaviour, even when the power dynamic feels stacked against you.

The light summer breeze, the typical hum of brimming London pubs in the warmer months, the soothing tones of The High Low podcast in my ears… I couldn’t ignore my thumping heart as I desperately followed Google maps to my new and promising destination. I was nervous because I was invested.


My “only for a few weeks” role at a local pub had turned into six months of service with a smile that I was ready to see the back of.


The upside of this had been that I’d had enough personal time around pub shifts to indulge my obsession with books and my magnetic attraction to pen and paper. But I was keen to put my degree to good use and start actually getting paid for my efforts as a writer. This interview seemed like the perfect opportunity.


First impressions


My interviewer was running late and I’d forgotten to note down all his contact details except for an email address, which left me panicking that I was lingering outside the wrong building.


I took a minute to admire the swanky offices and dared hope I might someday soon be strutting through these very doors with purpose, coffee and bag in hand.


I was struck with an ill-founded sense that this moment was about to change my life forever. I felt poised, ready to take a step in the direction I’d been tirelessly working towards since the first moment I was told I had a “way with words”. A flustered older man power-walked towards me, searching for his keys and barging straight past my outstretched hand. He explained that his bad timekeeping that morning was a sorry consequence of his evening plans the night before. He complained about how “surprisingly inconvenient” it was that his house was so close to work. It meant he often got over-confident with his timings and ended up being late for almost everything, which he was clearly more accustomed to making excuses for, than apologising for. He rushed me up to the tiny office which he explained only him and two female members of staff worked in.


He liked hiring women, he said, it “kept him young”.


A touch too far


After talking me through the job description, promising my place on a list of exotic trips to my favourite Italian coastline towns and cities, and assuring me that although my role was only advertised online, it was legitimate and I would someday be published, this gentleman started brushing my hand with his across the table. A subtly, silently terrifying move. I suddenly wanted this god-awful experience to be over. But, being the polite and obliging interviewee who had very little experience, a lot of ambition and a keen sense of “he’s in charge here”, I moved my hands to my sides and continued the pleasantries. He told me he knew I was the girl for the job because I was a talented speaker with a rare ability to hold eye contact despite being presumably nervous.


In all honesty, I was flattered. I had assured myself of his authority to the point that I was grateful when he complimented me, despite his entirely inappropriate behaviour.


A painful reality check


After being offered the job and coyly saying I’d need some time to think about it, I embarked upon the two hour journey home. I eagerly called my boyfriend to talk over what, I genuinely thought at the time, had been a positive experience. He has naturally always swayed towards facts and figures, rather than how welcoming the office common room looked or how perfect the location was for people-watching. So, his first question was about the salary. I ashamedly admitted that the offer was £12,000 per year, that I would be paid in cheque at the end of each month and that my potential employer had assured me he’d walk me through the process of paying my own tax. The sum of this, the 'gentleman' had claimed, would be lower than if he paid me through the books. I wouldn’t be entitled to holiday pay (not great for a girl who dreams of her next excursion as soon as temperatures drop below ten degrees), and he could, essentially, fire me at any time and without warning.


As I said these words aloud to my boyfriend I realised for the first time how low my sense of worth was when it came to my career.


This was partly thanks to  the competitiveness of the graduate job market which fuelled my burning desire to work in my dream sector but had left me blinkered to the less-than-perfect reality of the role before me. The reality was that I couldn’t possibly accept the role and also pay for rent in London if I wanted to be able to eat even one meal a day.


The pompous put-down


After realising the sticky financial situation this job would leave me in, I swiftly let this less-than delightful man down. I was careful not to be rude or hurt his feelings – I didn’t want to make any enemies in the industry when I had so little experience. I drafted and redrafted my email, making sure he knew that my problem was not with the job or the small office team, but simply a matter of wanting to have enough money to live on.

Despite having let him down exceedingly gently, I received an unbelievably destructive response to my reasonable rejection.


I was told that I would never get an offer like this again, that I was misplacing my confidence in myself where it simply wasn’t due. I was told that I would never be a writer if I thought myself too good for such an unbelievable opportunity, which he had so generously bestowed upon me. It was hard not to take this to heart – even from a man who, I was slowly admitting, had put me in such a vulnerable position and taken advantage of that authority.


But, I tried to take it in my stride and I started churning out job application after job application with a new-found ferocity, like a pissed fresher relentlessly attempting to use methods of disguise and straight-line-walking to get into a club they’ve already been refused entry into.


A lesson learned

It’s hard leaving uni and trying to fit together a million puzzle pieces of your personality, to try to create some sort of picture of what your purpose in life might be. It feels like, as soon as you think you’ve completed the jigsaw, some disappointment comes and tramples all over what you thought was your finished work.

But remember that no set-back is final and it might even shove you a little in the right direction.


Be sure to get to grips with your financial worth and search for a job with the same confident, critical focus of when you’re looking for the best deal on your phone insurance. It can be easy to forget that the job application process is a two-way street  – what each role and organisation has to offer you is equally as important as what you can offer to the job. If you’ve got a car, look for somewhere with parking. If you have to pay crippling rail costs, bring that up with your employer before accepting a job. If somebody reaches over to touch your hand and pays you compliments in an attempt to feed his ego, walk out and don’t even consider taking the role.

Image: unknown.

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