The problem with lying at a job interview or on your CV is that, inevitably, a tedious day of reckoning will arrive and one’s slight embellishments will be brutally exposed. Whether it’s that computer programme you claimed to invent, that charity board you claimed to sit on or that big fat account you claimed to land, as sure as not, one day at work, your guard will drop, your cover will be blown and you will be caught like a wasp in a sticky jam jar – probably to the delight of several of your colleagues.
In my case, the lies began, as most do – on my application form. It’s hard to remember, 24 years later, how desperate I was to get a job at the BBC. I was stuck in an eye-wateringly dull job in Glasgow – I’m not really sure what the company I worked for actually did… Sequestrations? Liquidations? Something about shutting stuff down – that was it. Basically, whenever the economy tanked, my bosses would rub their thighs with lusty delight as it meant that businesses would be failing and they could swoop in and tear at the tattered remains like savage hyenas. And remembering that around the early 90s, giant banks like BCCI were collapsing into dust, and Black Wednesday was forcing a slow-blinking public to understand chewy concepts like the exchange rate mechanism, it was fair to say that my bosses were in clover.
I, however, like any self-respecting working goth – was listening to some very gloomy music, wearing black, drinking heavily and dreaming of a better life – in TELLY! Who wouldn’t think that working in TV would be heaps more fun than closing down failing businesses? It seemed perfect, I watched loads of telly, surely I would be brilliant at making it. The trouble was, somewhat like today, the television media world seemed like a secret, closed private club and I definitely did not have a membership card. Not having an ‘in’ at the BBC or STV – the only 2 TV employers I knew of, my speculative letters went unanswered, however when any positions were actually advertised in the Herald newspaper on a Friday, then a horribly familiar pattern soon set in.
My only-slightly-embellished CV would be submitted with my carefully composed accompanying letter and an excruciating amount of time would then pass before a response arrived by post. I was living in a bedsit in a massive shared house in the west end of Glasgow, where all our post would be roughly kicked to one side behind the door by whichever bleary-eyed student ventured out first in the morning. As the only actual working tenant of the household, I grudgingly but inevitably found myself gathering the armfuls of correspondence and arranging it into 12 different bundles for each tenant. What a loser.
In any case, probably around half a dozen times, I received invitations from both STV and BBC Scotland in Glasgow to come to interview for whatever the latest position it was that I had applied for. And every time, I absolutely, completely and spectacularly blew it.
Some people just take to the floor at interviews like seasoned cruise-ship entertainers. They have the interviewing panel eating out the palm of their hand and the job is theirs within 11 seconds of walking in the room. I, on the other hand, develop an acute inability to speak in any fathomable language, I forget how to physically sit down properly in a normal chair, and on one memorable occasion, I introduced myself as David. Which was the name of the man actually interviewing me. I wouldn’t have employed me.
Time and time again, I performed so disastrously at these interviews, that I barely even checked at the communal post pile to look for the inevitable rejection letter. Lovely and supportive friends would stick to their well-rehearsed scripts, telling me to keep my chin up and of course, would attempt to peddle out the ultimate nonsense – that when you think you’ve done badly in an interview, that’s usually when you get the job. What rot. When you’ve actually spat down your chin by accident whilst trying to say words, you know the direction the outcome letter is going to take.
A change of tactic was clearly needed – I was getting on nodding terms with the security staff at failed interview locations. So when an advert appeared in the Guardian newspaper for BBC Enterprises seeking people to work at their west London offices, a somewhat strange and detached calm state overtook me. These people didn’t know me from Adam – I literally had nothing to lose – I could write pretty much anything on my letter – I was never going to bump into them on the Byres Road, and anyway the chances of them asking me to interview were forensically small.
Of course, I got an interview. In my defence, my actual CV didn’t have too many lies on it – albeit that gym membership was always going to be a fabrication. The accompanying letter however, was an exercise in sheer chutzpah. I pretty much slagged-off my current job – I blithely wrote a florid paragraph on about the benefits that a packet of Hob Nobs could bring to office-life (seriously) – I was witty, carefree and in hindsight, an unbearable arsehole.
Unbearable arseholery however, appeared to strike a cord with those London media-types, and the call to interview duly, and staggeringly, arrived. I went through the process of prepping for the interview but in my mind it was really only with a view to having another funny failure story to tell in the pub. The idea of actually packing up my entire life, abandoning all my friends and family and moving to a city which I had literally never visited in my life, and in which I didn’t know a single, solitary soul – well, it just seemed preposterous.
The interview morning dawned. I had to catch the first train to Euston and as I waited that dark morning, coat on, bag packed, sitting at my window, willing the 4am cab to appear, I remember there had been a slight snowfall during the night and the entire street was looking quite ethereal and beautiful under the orange streetlights. London Shmondon.
Watching all the west coast mainline towns zip by – Lancaster, Wigan, Warrington Bank Quay, I still felt like a curious tourist rather than a nervous interviewee. I’d taken a skirt on a hanger to change into, and as I didn’t possess anything as adult as a suit-bag, I’d hung a black bin bag over it. As we approached Euston, I remember trying to turn into the character of Respectable Professional Interviewee in a Scotrail toilet, and tried to put my make-up on as we trundled into central London.
Negotiating the London Underground as a first-time visitor is actually pretty simple. I had the name of the station I had to aim for – White City – I saw it was on some kind of red line, and getting to the red line involved going on a black line for a bit. This London thing was easy. Sitting on the red line, I even recognised some of the names – Oxford Circus – well that was easy. Notting Hill – they had some kind of carnival, right? Holland Park – well – it was like some kind of sign. I’d been watching Absolutely Fabulous on TV the night before, and didn’t Patsy and Edina say they lived in somewhere called Holland Park? I was like a native!
I almost strutted into the BBC building. I still didn’t really think any of this was serious. They liked my Hob Nob story for godssake, these people were clearly a bit mad. I remember being met by an HR lady who sounded like Janet Street Porter and, with a vague detachment, let her lead me into the glass box of the interview room.
And that’s where the slight embellishments kicked in. Well, they had to – these people were expecting a spunky, confident, go-getting wise-ass. Not a stammering neurotic goth lady who dribbled when nervous. So they got the wise-ass. And the wise-ass needed a much better story than the one the goth lady could offer up. So, they asked me if it would be a problem re-locating from Glasgow to London. NO WAY! I had been to London loads of times, I had sackfuls of amaaaazing friends down here , I had been to heaps of gigs in the, um, The Wembley, and a whole side of my family lived down here too. On my Dad’s side. Where? Em – Holland Park actually – not far from here.
What utter, utter bullshit. Of course I got the job. I was brilliant. I was confident. I was hilarious. I would have hired me. When the outcome letter plopped through the post, I knew it was a job offer before even opening it.
And so I somehow ended up getting my dream job and moving to London for nearly a decade. Did I ever get found out? Well, that’s another story.