Published 13/9/2013 on GoThinkBig
In the last week of August, the universe decided I wasn’t so bad after all, and threw me a bone. Two, in fact. In my largely bone-free existence, this was a boney landslide.
The first was thrown by a batty family member. He’d bought a car and was driving to the Loire Valley to celebrate. Taking pity on me after I spent my life savings on a journalism masters only to become the poster child for unemployment, he offered to take me along and stuff me with cheese. A holiday in France! Magnifique!
The second bone was thrown by the Guardian. The email came while I was packing. It read, roughly:
We are delighted to invite you to an assessment centre for the Guardian Digital Journalism Scheme. Your appointment will be early in the morning in the middle of the only holiday you’re likely to have in, quite literally, years. The mid-week train back to London will cost over £100 and there’s a MASSIVE chance we’ll reject you anyway, since you have a knack for messing up these sorts of opportunities.
We look forward to meeting you, as chances are you’ll make some excellent blunder we’ll dine out on for years.
Ok, I didn’t exactly copy-paste that, but it’s an accurate representation of what I saw. Inconvenient? Absolutely. But it was a bone. A delicious, much-needed bone. Here’s what it was like to frantically gnaw on it…
Arriving at the Guardian offices
Expectation: The receptionist will say, “Ah yes, here you are, under ‘jobless oddball invited in error’.” Then she’ll press a button and the trap door I’ll be conveniently standing on will open, and I’ll disappear with an echoey “Nooooooo!”
Reality: I must have been standing to the left of the trap door because she gave me a visitor’s badge and told me to take a seat.
The lobby was stylish, but not in a “f*ck the police” sort of way. The company logos were lit up on the walls, the chairs and carpets splashed with pinks and greens and oranges. The empty chair next to me was printed with block letters. They probably spelled “hummus” or something, but I didn’t feel I had to make them out. The chairs were the kind which situate your arse well below your knees, so I spent the twenty-minute wait hoping I’d be able to get out of it without ending up as a BuzzFeed GIF.
The dress code
Expectation: The Guardian’s lefty and cool, so people won’t be too smart. They’ll be dressed similar to me – Doc Martens, casual tops, at least one hole in everyone’s trousers.
Reality: Nope. The other candidates arrived in impeccable suits, high heels and brushed hair. I bet they used an actual mirror to get ready. I panicked – but it’s the Guardian! A smackhead managed to make a habit of wandering in to shoot up in their bathrooms for goodness sake!
I calmed down somewhat to note that while the candidates were smartly dressed and reading the paper, the employees wandering in looked more like me – each casually dressed, tapping digital devices, sucking at the teat of a Pret coffee cup like a shuddering addict.
Then it hit me – Doc Martens. Boots used in the 70s by skinheads to kick minorities to death. And I was wearing them at the Guardian. They had red ribbon laces, but still.
I was done for.
The other candidates
Expectation: The group won’t, like much of the industry, be densely populated with privately educated white men. Most will be something the Daily Mail would find distasteful – female, foreign, any shade darker than khaki.
Reality: Yep. They were also intimidatingly intelligent, well-informed and articulate. Several were such great company that we spent the rest of the day gabbing in the pub.
Expectation: We were told in the invitation email that there would be a subbing test, a writing exercise, and a group task. I hoped the group one would be a trust exercise where you catch someone falling backwards off a ledge. Then if we dropped someone and they got concussed, there’d be one less interviewee in the running.
Reality: The group exercise had an extremely low concussion risk. We sat in a semi-circle and discussed how to digitally present three news stories. The editorial team perched themselves in a line and took reams of notes, as if observing the contents of an aquarium. It was all I could do not to make a fish face and forget everything after three seconds.
One candidate suggested the way to digitally feature news of the 50 Shades of Grey casting was to have the general public upload their own speculative audition tapes. I heard myself say, “That might be quite frightening.”
I’m sure one of them wrote, “The one who waltzed in from France wearing racist boots fears non-traditional sex. NGM (not Guardian material).”
The subbing test was as expected: we had to sub an article full of spelling, punctuation and grammar errors – ridiculously full of them. In fact it was so bad I didn’t even bother subbing it, I just wrote in block capitals at the end, “THIS IS APPALLING. SEE ME.”
The next stage
Expectation: They told us they were going to have a “wash-up session” in which they’d “discuss the candidates” (a nice way of saying “exterminate 23 from the list”). The remaining 12 will have an hour-long interview with Alan Rusbridger.
I’m sure they’ll let us know on Tuesday afternoon, as they promised. They know we’re terrified of either outcome – a nerve-crunching 60 minutes trying to impress Alan Rusbridger, or yet another soul-dampening rejection.
They’ll definitely get a move on, so as not to leave us dangling like hogs over a spit roast yet to be lit.
Reality: Nope. Still haven’t heard. The suspense burns. My heart does an elaborate break-dance every time I hear an email ping, and my smackhead-in-the-toilets routine hasn’t made me as privy to the right gossip as you’d think.