So I’d left my job as the world’s most smartly dressed web designer as described in an earlier post, and intended to set up business for myself, tired of the thankless grind of corporate life and of the fact that despite doing it every day for two years, I still couldn’t tie a fucking tie properly first time. Or second or third.
Every day I went to work in my previous job I looked like I was going to a job interview in someone else’s suit. Whilst other gentlemen manage to look smart and comfortable in formal business wear, I always seemed like I’d done a trolley dash in Moss Bros. People were endlessly coming up and asking me “How did it go?” or “Did you get the job?” People around the company who didn’t know me took one look at me and thought I had just started. Straight from school. And my job didn’t help either, I would meet people in bars in the evening, and explain I was a web designer and it only fuelled the misconception. Obviously no web designer works in a suit, so that combined with how poorly it fitted me led anyone to believe I’d just been for a job interview.
The suit was an everyday reminder of the fact I didn’t really fit in with a company so corporate. I once stumbled across a “hiring guide” for managers, an understandable document for any company sure, but theirs was fascinating. Things like, “avoid hiring people who’ve worked for companies that have gone into administration. Whilst it may not be the individual’s fault, it’s indicative of the kind of company that was prepared to hire them.” Council and public service workers were in there too, to be avoided because they may have picked up “bad habits”, there were guidelines on what universities to take applicants from … basically half the stuff in this document said I should not have been hired. The one sensible thing in there was, that it was unfair on the applicant if you ignored the guidelines and hired them anyway, because they wouldn’t fit in and they would leave. That was true. I didn’t and I did.
Now I’m well-known for my poor timekeeping, and those of you who know me will surely think there can be no sympathy for me if I got into trouble for my timekeeping.
It was July 2005 and I was in my boss’ office first thing in the morning getting a bollocking for being 34 seconds late. Yes 34 seconds late. Extreme right? That’s not even the half of it. Timekeeping there was not judged by when you arrived in the office, it was when you logged in to your PC, so if you arrived a few minutes to 9, took off your jacket, booted up your PC and it finally finished booting up past 9 o’clock, trouble.
But this was not any old day in July 2005, it was 7th July 2005. The Northern line had been suspended due to a power failure. Which would eventually lead one of four bombers to leave the Tube network and blow up a bus instead. I had walked to work that day. And I had arrived at work before 9, and I had logged in 34 seconds late, and I was in a meeting room getting a bollocking…
I left about 6 months later. Around the time of my leaving, I started dating a girl from work. I’d always quite liked her after first chatting to her at a company social event in Dublin. At the time she had a boyfriend, Justin. I wasn’t sure at the time whether I’d impressed her or offended her when she told me about her boyfriend and I instantly quipped, “Ha ha, what do you call a man with a very small penis. Justin.”
A few weeks into our dating, a ‘friend’ of mine had a revelatory thought; “hang on, if she’s willing to shag Alan, she’ll shag anyone” and seized an opportunity while out in her company after work to get her ludicrously drunk, took her home and shagged her. He has never fully appreciated any of the several reasons I outlined to him why this behaviour was wrong.
Me and her weren’t going anywhere anyway; I’d rapidly stopped fancying her as soon as she started fancying me back. (Girls, take note, this is not what I usually do in these situations), but she was a lovely girl. We drifted apart and that was that.
The problem with me being a freelancer is, I’ve tried it before and for one reason or another I’ve just never been able to make money from it. My problem was often that I wasn’t clear enough about what people would get, so I’d do a website for someone for a bare minimum price, and suddenly I find myself supporting the site, updating the site, adding new stuff, managing their hosting, even being their personal tech support often when they can’t get their own PC to work. And I was just never able to have the time to have enough throughput to do it full-time as my income.
Despite sounding like a great skill to have for some part-time cash, I’ve really never made any proper money from it, and the vast majority of web and design work I’ve done for people has been for free. So after a little while of trying again, bills needed to be paid and I needed to find a proper job once again.
I’d started temping as the money was running out and two opportunities surfaced at once.
The first was an online marketing manager position with a blind charity. The position looked nice, I had all the skills, I had the experience they were after, so I soon found myself in the interview. Their offices were on an industrial estate in Bermondsey. It was a shithole. It was depressing even going for the interview. Now I’m not a diva about where I work, not at all, I used to work on a suburban street round the corner from a petrol station and a Tesco Metro, trust me I don’t need glamour in my workplace, but this place was mightily dreary. The people seemed nice, the job seemed fine, just what I was looking for, prospects were good, interview went really well. I particularly liked my opening. They said “Had you heard of us before you applied for the job?” I said “no, never.” Important to stress their marketing wasn’t working. It was true though.
I’d had trouble in the interview however not making gags about the fact it was a blind charity. One of my great weaknesses is a complete inability to pass a joke by, however inappropriate. So instinctively, rather than nodding at the interviewers’ points and saying “yes”, “I understand”, “Mm-hmm”, and “OK…”, I kept saying “I see.” At one point they were talking about some problems with their current marketing and asked if I agreed with their observations. “Well of course, I mean you’d have to be bli…. I mean, you’d have to be really short sigh…. I mean you’d have to be foolish not to see… to recognise those issues.” A few slipped through though, like when they talked about getting some fresh ideas in with this new position and some institutional failings and I said, “Yes, sometimes it’s hard to see things that are right in front of your eyes…”
Around the same time I’d gone for a part-time e-mail marketing job with RICS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors). It was three days a week, and I wondered if it might be the perfect solution, giving me time to do my freelancing and other projects but topping up my income with a part-time real job. Their HQ is on Parliament Square, so location-wise the complete opposite to the charity job. I could see the clock-face of Big Ben right out the window beside where my desk would be.
And better still, I’d never have an excuse to be late ever again.
Again, interview went very well and if anything I was overqualified; I really had to sell them on the idea I actually wanted something part-time so I could pursue other interests.
It was while I was mulling over these two jobs that an agency called me about a job with Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. I’d never played a PlayStation although I was a big Nintendo fan and was a fairly regular gamer. I was qualified for the job as Web Services Executive, but I assumed about 16,000 people would be applying to work for a games company, so I told the agency guy “yeah feel free to put me forward” but never expected to hear from him again.
I got called back for a second interview at the charity, place was a nightmare to get to from home too, and again, went very well. Had this one in the bag I thought. Then I got a call up for an interview with Sony. No idea what I put on the generic CV that the agency had that grabbed their attention so much … but I was soon to find out.
I arrived in the urban paradise of Golden Square having taken some time off from my temping job with Her Majesty’s Government, so I was already in a bad suit. But I imagined in a games company you could turn up in your pyjamas and get away with it. One of the interviewers had a double-barrelled name. That was a bad sign. There was no way Glasgow scum like me was getting this job, I thought. Interview was going very well, it was a very colourful place, people were really nice and there were cute girls everywhere. I was almost going to ask if they shared their offices with someone else, this was not something I expected from a games company.
Towards the end, the other interviewer brandished my CV to discuss my “hobbies and interests”. Oh what fun, what random crazy shit had I put on there. I’m always honest about this section, but my hobbies change so frequently and they’re just so … so fucking weird and random.
“Creative writing, socialising with friends…” Good start, shows I have a creative side and can write in English, but also that I am so uncreative that I put socialising with friends as a hobby as if it isn’t something everyone does…
“Cocktail mixology…” she added. Great, Scottish person who specifically mentions alcohol on their CV. Wonderful. I might as well have just put ‘alcoholic’. Had to think fast, luckily I had a distracting anecdote for this, perfectly suitable for an interview situation of course.
“You see,” I said, “I hang around this nice bar on the King’s Road with some of my friends…” Skillfully demonstrating I am adept at networking with more monied individuals, certainly scored me some points with the guy with the double-barrelled name, “And I invented my own cocktail there, they even put it on the menu. It was similar to a Mojito, but it had tequila instead of rum, cherry juice instead of lime, and a dash of lager on top.”
“What was it called?” she asked, intrigued.
“…It was called a Pop Your Cherry.”
Getting away with this anecdote was a good sign.
“OK we also have learning French, current affairs and history…” My flatmate used to be French (I say used to be French, he used to be my flatmate, he’s always been French) and I needed to know some French just to be able to book time in the bathroom every morning. And by current affairs I meant I watch Question Time. “Autograph-collecting…” Yes I went through a phase of buying dozens of celebrity-signed photos on eBay, almost all of which are likely fake, “Sherlock Holmes…” Yes the Jeremy Brett TV series, not the books, just to make that clear, I don’t read fiction.
“…and lastly … Nintendo.”
Well I very nearly shat myself. I had been so convinced I didn’t have a hope of getting an interview for this job, I didn’t bother checking that on my CV I didn’t list their main competitor as one of my favourite things…
It didn’t go down as badly as I thought, it may have been my interest in the industry in general and my knowledge of gaming (even if a competitor) that put me near the top of the pile in the first place. The interview ended and I was fairly optimistic about at least having a chance. My friend called to ask me how it went and the first thing he asked was “Ha ha, did you tell Sony that you have every Nintendo console ever made?” Pretty much, yeah.
RICA offered me the job and needed an answer straight away as the job needed urgently filling. I’d gone from no-chance to vague-hope with PlayStation and I decided to turn RICA down and kiss goodbye to that wonderful view.
Blind charity also offered me the job, and I fobbed them for a little bit waiting to hear back from Sony. I did hear back from Sony, with a test – the second stage in the process. This for me was a very good development. I only apply for job I can definitely do, I’ve never just taken a punt at something and hoped to be able to bullshit. But some people do bullshit at interviews, so I often feel at a slight disadvantage because some gobshite could weasel his or her way into a job I was more genuinely qualified for. A test was the perfect thing for me, I knew I’d ace it and my chances would be better than ever.
I sent back my test, and the man from the blind charity was all over me for an answer. He explained they’d looked at 34 CVs, interviewed 3 and second-interviewed just me, and if I didn’t accept they’d have to start again. Meanwhile I was trying to find any excuse to fob him off while I heard back from Sony. This was my backup job, there was no indecision about which one I wanted but I couldn’t be stuck with nothing. Eventually I told him I was waiting to hear back about another position I was more suitable for. He was not happy. He not only tried emotional blackmail but was also downright aggressive, telling me how “pissed off” he was that I was wasting his time. Was I supposed to take that job just because it was most convenient for him? Nobody does that right. Apparently he was also “pissed off” with my attitude, and I told him even if I didn’t have any other options I wouldn’t take the job now because after hearing how he spoke to me on the phone I would not want him to be my manager.
And that was that. I’d had two perfectly good job offers, no money, a temping job that was nearing its end, and I turned them both down, for just a chance at something I really wanted.
This is exactly why I can’t be trusted with money. I take risks, on flimsy grounds, and hope everything will be OK…
I anxiously waited to hear from PlayStation. Over a week went by, nothing. I got the sinking feeling my gamble might have backfired in my stupid face. I called the agency a few times and they tried to chase, but nothing. Eventually I gleaned the information that it was a close call between me and others, and references were being checked. Usually this would be fine for me, I could have provided glowing references from anywhere I ever worked until recently. Because naturally one of my two referees was my previous company, and not only had I left the job with little love lost, but they had since threatened to sue me over my portfolio website.
I knew this could be a problem, but I didn’t realise it would come to being the decider. They wouldn’t give me a bad reference, but it was likely to be a very factual one, and not the beyond-expectation referee I would usually have had. I also wasn’t sure off the top of my head who else the agency would have had on record as another referee.
I was sitting at my temping job, praying for an IT crash or a project disaster so they’d have to keep me on, when I got a call from James. James was the director of the small music company I’d been working with in my spare time for many years. He said “I just got randomly phoned on my mobile by a Vice-president from Sony… they were asking me all kinds of questions about you.”
A split second of total panic quickly gave way to the confidence I had almost certainly got the job, even before James had said another word. Just like I worked with James in my spare time, James ran the music company in his spare time. In his day job, James was Director of Communications for one of the world’s largest media companies. In short, there was barely a person in London more expert at handling a cold call reference than him.
Sony called me back in for the final final stage, drinks with my new team. I turned up at 5.30pm ducking off early from my temping role. I got chastised for once again wearing a suit and had to explain I’d just come from the Government job. I reassured them, “Trust me you will never see me in a fucking suit ever again.” We went to a local pub, drinks were ordered by one of my potential colleagues. He went round the group…
“Lager, lager, cider, lager, lager, and what would you like Alan?”
“Tequila and coke please. Mixed together. Double.”
I got the job.
And after passing my probationary period, I got my PlayStation.