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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The dead cert

I was desperate to leave the North; girls wouldn't take me seriously there.

Leaving the North meant moving to London. I needed London's magic to rub off on me; I wanted to drink a pint at The Cogers, just off Fleet Street, and say - though not so metaphorically - I have cut the umbilical cord.

I applied for many jobs, some rubbishy, some clearly with no future. During National Service I'd learned electronics so here I was, in a room overlooking Tottenham Court Road, ready to give my all to the publicity department of Mullards. Mullards made thermionic valves, glassy tubes that used to glow inside old radios and TV sets. Soon to be replaced by transistors.

My interviewer was a tubby bald man who spoke with great deliberation. He appeared to be following a memorised agenda, proffering questions rather than posing them. The atmosphere was soporific. A few questions in, he opened a drawer in his side of the desk and took out a packet of cigarettes. Did I care to smoke?

I didn't smoke, never had. My northern lungs you know. But that wasn't the point. His gesture was clearly planned and my response would be noted. Conceivably we would light up and the interview would become more relaxed. Whatever, I declined and he slowly returned the packet to the drawer. Clearly he didn't smoke either.

I felt sure I'd got the job. I knew thermionic valves and I didn't depend on cigarettes.

I was appalled when I received a letter regretting this and that. Weeks later I was offered a much better job and the great London adventure began.

But Mullards rankled. The fools turned down the perfect applicant. This occurred in 1959 aeons ago. I don't believe Mullards still exists.


  1. Things may have changed but in my day interviewers were rarely accomplished. They were eager to tell you about their own path to promotion and it was difficult to stop them. I developed the skill of interruption so I could have some chance of promoting myself. My proper management career job was secured, I believe, by pulling strings. I obtained a reference from the general manager of Bradford and Bingley Building Society who was a pal of my father - I hardly knew the guy, and he knew less about me.

  2. I suspect I applied for more jobs than you did. During a working life which started in August 1951 and ended in August 1995 I worked for fourteen different employers, some of them different divisions of the same company but widespread enough to qualify as separate operations.

    On that basis I probably did about thirty applications, two or three of them in the USA. The interviews varied from the unskilled/talkative sort you indicate, through being grilled by groups or boards of managers, right on to those comfortable behind-the-scenes encounters where the topic centred on how best to shaft the person I would replace.

    The most formal interviews were those for government-related organisations where some of the questions were put by what were then called the personnel department (now human resources), working on the principle that these interviewers at least had had some training in asking appropriate questions. The Mullards interview I describe was one of these.

    Quite quickly I became an expert in being interviewed. This didn't ensure I always got offered the job. Dislike often plays a huge role in job interviews and it is usually impossible to overcome this as an interviewee. Right at the end I helped my manager (a woman) interview people for the editorship I was leaving. It was a hot day and one applicant had rolled up his sleeves - to reveal a tattoo! Neither she nor I warmed to this.

  3. The tatoo - on a par with reeking of tobacco. Another thing - the loosened tie with the first button of the shirt undone.