Survival of the Fittest

survival of the fittest

Illustration: Ike Curtis

The breeze was non-existent and there was no glimmer of sunlight peering through the window, because it happened in a building at night.

The process was supposed to be easy. I’d worked at the Australian Open for three years as a survey taker, entering data of the who, when, where and why people came to the tennis so that companies like Garnier would know the demographic of the patrons and decide whether to sponsor the tournament. During my tenure, Garnier stopped giving away their free hair products at the tennis. I wonder if that had anything to do with me?

Anyway, it was a good job. Plus the pay, we were given about $17 worth of lunch per day and icy poles when it was especially hot. One time a man next to me was severely dehydrated so I bought him a bottle of water, and I was subsequently awarded Ace of the Day. I was given an Australian Open beach towel and two Gold Class movie tickets. The title still looks ridiculous on my resume. Alas, the job is now gone and I was made redundant, replaced by stationed iPads around the complex. Robots strike again!

After a year’s hiatus I applied for a job again at the Australian Open, this time as a customer service attendee. The survey-taking job was basically that anyway: smiling incessantly, taking photos of tourists, giving people directions, occasionally dealing with abuse because of the fluoro Lacoste uniforms we were given etc. etc. etc.

I filled out the online registration forms, and walked into the group interview with verve and panache in my old black jeans and poorly ironed grey shirt. Waiting in line for our headshots to be taken by a person with an iPhone (at some point, that person will probably be replaced by an automated robot) I saw my ex-Australian Open workmate Robert. We talked about how cruisy this job interview would be. Look at all those plebs, we said, they probably don’t even know how to get from Rod Laver Arena to Court 17!

It was basically how I envisage the opening moments of joining a cult, or a very minimum-security prison for the rich and famous. Red chairs were scattered across the empty room and the hundred or so people were divided to various stations led by toothy-grinned HR guys.

First we had the questions. If somebody wants to get from Richmond Station to Bourke St, but I don’t know the route, should I:

A) send them to a fellow customer service attendee who can assist my friendly patron

B) ask them to wait patiently and use an electronic device to find out the route

C) tell them to go fuck themselves with great vengeance and furious anger

or D) all of the above.

At the second station—led by my good friend the HR Guy—our tight-knit group was divided into pairs. We were each rationed a pencil and a piece of paper and were told to sit back-to-back with our buddy. The HR Guy whispered the name of a shape (i.e. a hexagon) to my buddy, who would then describe it without actually naming it so that I could draw it. After drawing numerous shapes, we were then evaluated on our shape-drawing abilities (or I guess, communication skills or something).

I am an awful artist, and apparently a terrible communicator, so this was probably where my job prospects started to take a turn for the worse. I was slathered with positive encouragement for my effort, but the glint of disapproval in the eyes of HR Guy was palpable.

I died a little inside.

To this day I question how that task linked in with my customer service skills, but apparently when Google is interviewing for Product Managers they ask them how many piano tuners are there in the entire world, so what the hell do I know.

Next, we all sit in a group, and the HR Guy leading the activity tells us about his lengthy and overwhelmingly positive experience working for the Australian Open. He subsequently asks us a range of questions about how our previous life choices enable us to deal with the various situations that will come up in the job. With Machiavellian intentions, he tells us not to worry about putting up our hand when answering the questions.

In the brutal survival-of-the-fittest environment of the group interview, this leads to one result: everybody yelling at the same time.  The whole room is screaming and talking over one another so as to get a word in. Moments of quiet are moments of weakness, because jobs in customer service aren’t for the weak.

The room is filled with very loud stories about how hardware stores and lifeguarding and law school had equipped my competitors with the skills they needed to help people find the bathroom. I had a bit of volunteering experience, so I tried to answer each question with slight variations of the same answer: “I’M ALTRUISTIC, GIVE ME THE JOB”. But other people were louder, and had better stories.

After two hours, the job interview process finished and my group departed, never to see each other again. On the melancholy train ride home, I accepted that the job was not going to be mine. The opportunity cost was $3.50 or so in transport, two or three hours of time and a dash in my self-esteem.

I was later informed by email that I did not have the job. I vowed then and there that group interviews were inane, I’m bad at them, and I won’t partake in them ever again.

… Unless they’re offering the same job this year, or a better job, or perhaps even a worse job. In which case: someone else stole my name to write this article. Please hire me!

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