The registration process for temp agencies probably hasn’t changed since the advent of the mainstream office computer. For those of y’all who have never registered as a temp, there are three components:- Filling out lots of forms of personal details, bank information, that sort of thing; a typing and/or software test; and finally an interview with a slightly surly temp controller, whose job it is to impress upon the prospective temp that a) fucking about is not an option; b) they will get you a job.
Today, I visited two temp agencies to register. Now it is October, the summer temp job drought has eased and they are finally taking on new people. In those difficult summer months, one is often met with a stark “the students are back” excuse from agencies, before they fragrantly hang up. People who work in temp agencies are often beautiful psirens, luring you into signing documents with their slightly prissy, slightly maternal sexuality. I was once registered by a male temp controller, and he converted this coy flirtation into beery mateyness, which seemed to me highly inappropriate. Anyway, today, now, I am in need of a job. Let’s see what London has to offer.
First up was the worryingly-named Next Employment, on Oxford Circus. I was made aware of the existence of Next Employment both by my housemate Jasmine – who, in her impressive position in the sales department of a publishing house, frequently gets temps from Next – and my friend Kinky Will who used to temp for Next. Kinky Will was keen to emphasise that the person who signed you up for Next was “a very flirtatious Australian woman”. I attempted to contact said flirtatious Antipodean over the summer, but a stream of calls and emails came to naught. The summer drought, I thought, had claimed Next’s interest, but come the Autumn months, contact was made.
The receptionist, an American lady who seemed quite tall when she was sitting down, welcomed me to the reception area with a clipboard, some forms and a pen. I asked if I could help myself to water from the conveniently-located watercooler, and she gave me permission. I filled the cup, and drank thereof. Cool, soothing water. Is there a drink more satisfying? No. There were only two forms to fill in, and they were relatively straightforward. The only thing that caused any consternation was the References section, which invited me to put down phone numbers. I don’t like putting down phone numbers for references, after one of my referees, my friend Hayley, suggested that Office Angels had been harrassing her on my behalf. Anyway, I skipped past those sections of the form and handed the clipboard and pen back to the receptionist. She led me to the computers for stage two: the typing test.
This was not just a typing test, however. I was to be tested on Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Powerpoint, and then the typing test. I breezed through much of the software tests without complaint, pausing only to notice two glitches in the tests themselves. Firstly, occasionally one’s mouse pointer would disappear from the screen, leaving one to guess where it had got to and click randomly in the hope that the button you should be clicking would be clucked. Secondly, if a menu was opened and then you clicked on the wrong option, the programme would assume that you had clicked the right option. I exploited this weakness mercilessly, all the time thinking about how I was a cool computer hacker, like Robert Redford in “Sneakers”. God, “Sneakers” was a cool film.
Then, onto the typing test. One of the joys of the typing test is the document they get you to type. It is always nonsensical, and as all but the fastest typers only use the first paragraph or so, the end of each document is often quite factually inaccurate and ludicrous, as if the copywriter got bored halfway through writing it. As an example of the type of material one is expected to type, I once spent about five minutes typing up a document about genetically-modified grain and the impact upon the bread industry for an Office Angels type test.
Next’s typing test centred on the importance of imagination in the work place, and suggested that it was essential and marked the difference between the average and the excellent candidate. I looked out of the window and was confronted by a brick wall with an air conditioning unit on it. Imagination in the workplace suddenly became something of a cruel joke. The document also contained the priceless advice:- “If you have a problem, sing a song about it, and then sing a song as a solution.” I would like to try this in real life. My songs would be “I Am Unemployable (And Overqualified)” and its response song “You are Buggered”.
You are buggered / You are screwed / You’ve been fucked over / By educational ambition
Oh dear oh dear oh dear / It’s too late now / Say hello to / Malnutrition
After finishing the tests, I returned to the reception area. The tall receptionist said “I’ll just take these results to Sally”. (Sally is the flirtatious Australian.) The receptionist then said, in a hushed voice, “They’re really good, these results. You got 62 words per minute… with no mistakes!” “Blimey,” I said.
Sally invited me into a very small room, and invited me to sit. She sat in a chair with a little table attached to it, like they have in American classrooms. “The thing is,” she said, “I want more information on your CV. We need to sell you to the employers, and just putting ‘Various Temp Positions’ doesn’t do it.” We ran through my last few temp agencies, what I actually did for them, and she looked pleased. Then she turned to my test results.
“WOW,” she said, in capitals, “do you know what you got?” “Um… not really,” I lied. “62 words per minute,” she said, with awe in her voice, “with no mistakes. I haven’t seen results like this since…” – she grasped for a comparison, and failed – “… since ever.” “Blimey,” I said.
“And Office Angels had you working in a warehouse? With results like these?”
She shook her head sadly. I copied her. We sat there, shaking our heads. It was a moment of communion.
She promised to find me a job and shook my hand, warmly. Shaking hands is important. A good grip, and plenty of eye contact. It communicates confidence. I went on my way. Apparently, the guy who was inside C3PO was in the HMV opposite the agency at about the time I left, but I didn’t want to brave the Geek Chorus within.
The second agency was Crone Corkhill in Green Park. I walked into the rather opulent building and was asked by the security lady to stand in front of a camera, which took a picture of me, in a suit, slightly overdressed. “Thank you,” she said, “make sure you come and see me before you leave. You need to go to the sixth floor.”
The offices of Crone Corkhill are all polished wood, bold positive colours, and smart office furniture. The reception area looks like a smart cafe in the Docklands, the corridors look like a private health clinic, or a sperm donation centre. All of the receptionists – and there are about fifteen of them – are attractive, tanned women, in black suits with very prominent cleavage. I started to think I’d wandered into the wrong office, but no, they welcomed me to Crone Corkhill. A Stepford receptionist said she would take me to a room where I could fill in the forms. She led me into a corridor of about twelve tiny interview rooms, with a little sliding window on each door that said VACANT/BUSY. She took me into a VACANT room, slid the little window to BUSY and said I could fill in the forms. The room was empty, but for a table and two chairs. On the table, a dispenser of Crone Corkhill leaflets and, bizarrely, a box of tissues. “This is a sperm donation clinic,” I thought, “How weird, to run a sperm donation clinic and a temp agency from the same office.”
I took a photo, because I knew you wouldn’t believe me.
After filling out the forms, of which there were approximately three hundred, I returned to the reception area, taking immense care not to look in any of the other rooms down “The Corridor Of Shame”. One of the forms was a spelling test, which had four options of spellings of words that you will never use, like “conscientious”. The problem with this is that even though one’s spelling may be perfect, the combination of pressure, too many options, and the fact that you might, at any moment, be given a small Tupperware container, inevitably leads you to making a few dodgy decisions. Parallel? Parrallel? Parrallell? I don’t know. I don’t particularly care.
Then, onto the typing test. Again, I was asked to do tests for software. No glitches in the software this time, although it didn’t tell you if you were right at any point, so one was in the dark for pretty much the whole thing. The document of the typing test, in an audacious display of self-referentiality, was about interview technique. “Shaking hands is important,” read the document, “Make sure you have a good grip, and use plenty of eye contact. It communicates confidence.”
After the test was over, I went back to the reception desk. “I’ve finished,” I said.
“Yes,” said the same woman from earlier. Or it might have been a different one. “I have your results here. You got 63 words per minute. That’s excellent,” she said, without looking impressed.
“That’s one word more per minute than this morning,” I thought. “I am on FIRE!”
“So,” said the receptionist, “I’ll pass these onto Poppy. Thanks very much.”
I left the office thinking it was odd that I didn’t meet a temp controller. I had only had two stages of the three standard stages. It was getting late – it was about 6pm by this point – perhaps Poppy had gone home and would call me tomorrow.
As I came out of the Underground at Finsbury Park, I got a voicemail message on my phone.
“Tom, it’s Poppy. There’s been a bit of a misunderstanding in reception. Could you turn round and come back in?”
“No,” I thought.