So I’ve been working a thousand and one tiny, short term temping jobs for quite some time now and it’s grinding me down, I’ve been sending out my CV everywhere as a response. I’ve even posted it to a couple of websites and allowed prospective employers to look it over at their leisure (despite the fact that getting head hunted is unlikely in the extreme). While my CV was out there, flickering around in the ether, soft and vulnerable, it was spotted by a monster.
It started with a phone call on Friday. An unexpected call from a number I did not know. This isn’t hugely unusual when you’re on the hunt for a job, though it often turns out to be a robot shilling PPI or offering compensation for that accident you haven’t had in the last five years, so I answered it. This was mistake one.
The woman on the end had a melodious, friendly but strong accent and the connection over the phone wasn’t that good. She stated the name of the company but I missed it, I asked her to repeat and she said the same thing again, I didn’t quite catch it that time either so ploughed on ahead regardless, thinking I would have little difficulty googling the company from the address she would inevitably email to me. This was mistake two.
She offered me an interview on the Monday and I accepted. It was a blessed relief to have finally found some traction after months of little movement and I’ve had calls on Friday to ask for interviews on Monday before. I found it a little strange when she said she would text me the details but, well, such is life, businesses often have esoteric methods, maybe this one frowned upon email? It’s not as uncommon as you might think. This was not a mistake, though it was beginning to set a few alarm bells gently ringing.
She sent me the address and I duly consulted Google on what the hell I might be getting in to. At that address were two companies which appeared to do much the same thing. Fine, that’s not uncommon (though it did seem strange that two competing companies would share a hallway and a reception). I began to think it might be a receptionist job I had applied for. I was wrong, but I wasn’t to know.
I asked my girlfriend to use her phone to call them out of office hours. The logic was that the answering machine message would likely say the name of the company and I could figure out what was going on. Instead the message said ‘welcome to Tesco mobile, please leave a message.’
At this point alarm bells were clanging about all over the place. All the same, I am a little desperate.
I rose from my bed on Monday, a nine o’clock appointment for an interview on my mind, and I strolled to the bus stop. There I waited with the other travellers, some going to work, some simply of that age where getting up early seems to present less of a challenge. It was drizzling slightly, this is England after all, and while I stood there in my suit a friend of mine on her way to her job patted me on the shoulder.
‘Good luck with the interview!’ She said.
‘Thanks Max,’ I said with a smile, ‘I’m not even completely sure what it is yet, bit nervous though.’
‘Ah, you’ll be fine’ she said, and then the bus pulled up.
As I sat there, amongst all the passengers, a little worried, a little hopeful, my mobile began to sing. I answered it and, as expected, it was that heavily accented voice confirming my appointment. I smiled, at last something a genuine company does! I confirmed that I would be there and asked which floor to go to.
I got as far as the ‘th’ in ‘thank you’ when I realised she had hung up without a word.
I should have known by now that this was not going to work. Hindsight is 20/20, true, but I should have known. The only reason I can think that I didn’t is that my desperation was turning to delusion and my nervousness at the thought of an interview (praise the Gods) was trumping my scepticism.
Out of the bus and back in to the drizzle. Along the alleys and back streets, near the pub I had DJed on the Saturday night. ‘That’ll be convenient,’ I thought, ‘I can drop in posters and flyers for my nightclub after work now and then if I get this.’
I found the building, an old facade of stone fallen in to disrepair but still maintaining a little of its past glory. Beautiful in that decayed way that only those in-between streets in English cities can be. I relaxed for a moment, foolishly forgetting that a con is as successful as its image for a moment. Inside it was different, inside…
Inside the first thing I saw was a laminated sign above a buzzer next to a thick and grimy security door. The sign, which had clearly been there for some time, said ‘interviewees call for the second floor.’
The alarm bells were back. What sort of company has so many interviewees, so often, that the only sign they place in their foyer tells interviewees where to go? At this point, though, I was too curious to turn back and pressed away. From the crackling intercom a familiar voice bid me to come up, and up I duly went.
Up the grimy stairwell that looked as if it had never been cleaned and in, at first, the wrong door. There stood a near empty office with two exhausted looking young men sat behind a computer screen. They looked at me, I looked at them. I took in the bin bags scattered about, the collapsing drop ceiling and the grim darkness at the far end where the light bulb would likely never be replaced, the filthy carpet and the flaking wallpaper on the walls. ‘Second floor, mate,’ they said, before I had squeaked out a word.
On upwards I went and found the presentable part. Here was an office worker’s office, a brightly coloured, gleaming temple to the joys of administration. On the walls were motivational posters of the kind that make projectile vomiting seem inevitable, there were posters with descriptions of the ‘cycle of development,’ there were people hurrying to and fro in suits with expensive haircuts and, now I consider it, a slightly frightened look in their eyes.
Most of all there was music. Loud and awful though some may consider it exciting and motivating. It was played at high volume (a volume I would likely object to were it not for the fact I’m fairly sure my hearing has been permanently… augmented by my years of gig attendance, clubbing and general carrying on) in the middle of the working day. What the hell was happening here? I realised, to my consternation, that the five other people sitting there were present for interviews as well. Alarm bells were blaring at full volume but at this stage I was too disoriented to simply leave. The woman I had been speaking to handed me a form to fill in, nothing unusual, and when I saw that others were doing the same I put my head down and got on with it.
This is where alarm bells broke from their hinges and crashed and clonged through my mind. The form asked a number of questions, all of which were answered on my CV which they had, ostensibly, read. Education history? You know my education history! Employment history? You know my employment history! What would I say my career goals are? Try and find a broader question!
With music blaring, and now determined to see this through for reasons I have yet to fathom, I filled in the form and sat back in my chair. The staff in the office all looked like they had just stepped out of their teens apart from the man I glimpsed performing the actual ‘interviews’ and the woman at the reception desk I had spoken to before. I found the whole thing jarring and off putting and I turned to the interviewee next to me, ‘don’t you find this a bit of a strange interview technique?’ I said, indicating the speakers next to us.
Before either of us could exchange another word the receptionist bore down upon me and started asking questions. In hindsight it’s obvious they didn’t want us talking to each other, they didn’t want us spreading doubt about the nature of the place. She asked about my personal life, my family, how many friends I had. In retrospect, again, these were questions designed to figure out just how many people, at a minimum, I could rope in to buying whatever the pyramid scheme was selling.
I chatted away though she didn’t seem interested, like she had memorised a list of questions. I should have left then, but I didn’t.
I was called in for my interview. The interviewer, a rotund and greasy man with a short pony tail and disinterested, dead eyes began to ask me questions in a bored tone of voice. ‘Tell me about your family life’ he said, ‘tell me about your friends.’
At this point it had all fallen in to place, you needn’t worry, oh family and friends who are reading this, I lied. I lied and lied and lied. In fact my only regret now is that I didn’t come up with better lies. ‘My family are all dead, they were at Everest base camp during the recent avalanche’ would have been a good one. ‘My friends are all very active in the charity sector and the neo-nazi community’ I could have said. He wasn’t interested in details, you see, he was interested in numbers.
Some chatting followed, obscure details were mentioned while the nature of the job itself was ignored. He spoke very little, studying me like a sample in a microscope slide.
When he asked ‘what can you bring to my company, how do I know you’re going to give 100% to me in face to face sales?’ This was the first time that what I would actually be doing had come up, door to door fraud sounded unpleasant to me. ‘Oh, well, er… that’s a difficult question to answer… er… I suppose… I’m a people person?’
It was the worst answer I could have given but I could have said that I would give 100% because I’m secretly Jesus and it would have been good enough for this scumbag. He nodded, the heavy lids of his eyes unmoving and his expression unchanging, and said he was impressed with me and he would take the results of his interview to his team. If I were someone else, if I were younger or had less experience with interviews, I would have believed him.
Homeward bound and I leap online. I’m sure but I want evidence. I know but I want to be sure what I know is what other people know. “Clover” and “advertising” and “Bristol” and “scam” go in to google and the result come out and… pages and pages and pages of them. A multitude of results. I fond out it is owned by people who used to be called Cobra Group. I read the details of the pyramid scheme. I read testimonials from thousands of survivors of their enslavement. And it is slavery. Their were tales of working a 70 hour week to go home with considerably less than the minimum wage. There were tales of people living in their cars while working more than full time. Tales of brainwashing techniques that aren’t just similar to the methods of cults but are, in fact, exactly the same. Commission was the only pay, and that often cash in hand. There were anecdotes (some of which I will transcribe shortly, I shall try to attribute them all but there are thousands) which made my blood boil. I was so angry I could spit, so enraged that the day, yesterday, was spent in a black, consuming haze of nihilistic fury so total that when they inevitably called back and offered me the job (they offer everyone their ‘job’) I found it difficult to open my mouth and speak.
So why did it make me so angry? I’ve met bad men before. I’ve met vile women before too for that matter. I’ve been attacked for no reason but that just made me sad, I’ve been threatened but that gave way to a feeling of being alive that I can almost enjoy, what was it about this that infuriated me that much?
I think it’s that these people are the exact opposite, the inverse, of everything I strive for. As an anarchist they appall me because they are a cult of money worshiping, tax dodging, rapaciously exploitative thieves. As a person it offends me because it reduces people to numbers and treats them as a consumable resource. As a Goth it offends me because while they are villainous they lack the imagination to be anything more than tediously, unextravagantly, unromantically villainous. Because they work by convincing you that making money is great, that they can make you make money in ways other companies can’t and they convince you to stay by convincing you that anyone who doesn’t want to work for them is a loser. On top of all that, and that is more than enough, it got my hopes up and then dashed them completely.
I think back now to the moments I sat in that ‘interview,’ an experience less than five minutes long, and I ponder the man who sat opposite me. What does it take to make a person like that? Who can sit opposite a man and think ‘I will strip away your life. I will strip away your hope. I will reduce every impulse you have to the urge to make money. I will enslave you. I will own you. I will take a portion of your slave wage and I will try to make you in to me.’ What does it take for a person to be able to do that? To look you in the eye while they batter at your soul? It is more than greed and less than a lust for power. There is a banality to that psychopathy that is utterly, undeniably chilling.
Some links to other sources about the parent company: