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“Get in a circle and say what you had for breakfast!”: what happened to me at an interview for a zero hours contract

Almost 700,000 people have a zero-hours contract for their main job, according to the Office for National Statistics. Ryan Ormonde shares his experience of an interview for a front-of-house role at a London theatre.

There are twenty of us in a studio space. Steve is our sparkly host for the next two hours. “Let's all get in a circle,” he says. “Classic drama style! Everyone say what you had for breakfast!”

Answers range from “a nutty cereal” to “chicken wings and two paracetamol”.

One of our number is not playing ball.

“Nothing,” she says.

“Nothing? How about for lunch?”

“Nothing.”

All eyes back on Steve: “Keep an eye on this one, she might faint!”

“Next up: I want you to imagine you only have half a minute left to live. Choose a memory from your past that you’d like to revisit for your last 30 seconds on Earth...”

I am at an interview for a front-of-house role in a London theatre, which includes some bar work and tearing tickets. We are competing for a zero-hour contract, and shifts are allocated to the people who reply the fastest to an email containing the new rota each week. There will be no guarantee of work for successful applicants, and whole months with no shifts on offer at all. 

In the spirit of theatre I am suspending my disbelief and trying to oblige Steve with an image of my last ebb of life.

Some people forget they are in an interview and reminisce on illegal raves and drug-fuelled euphoria. Catching up, the hopeful who skipped breakfast and lunch offers: “Cake…?”

Steve is now leading us in a game in which we throw and catch a ball while repeating things that we said before. This is followed by one of those team-building exercises in which we have to help one another get from one side of the room to the other without stepping on the floor.

Now we’re in smaller groups, responding to imaginary front of house scenarios, in order to win points for our team. One scenario: what would we do if a customer started shouting “this poster is gay”?

“Maybe they’ve got Tourette’s?” I suggest. 

Every now and then someone is taken out of the room for a “brief chat”. “Tell me about yourself,” says Steve. By now we have passed the two-hour mark, but Steve’s improvisation skills are serving him well. I like Steve; he makes the job sound fun – exciting even.

Afterwards I tell a friend with a full time job what I've just been doing and she looks alarmed: “It's like one of those crazy house viewings you hear about," she laughs, “where they have everyone round at the same time and they leave them to fight it out!”

The day after I get an email from the theatre. I didn't get the job. It's not my CV, it's me. Maybe I should change what I have for breakfast. Maybe I should work on my ball throwing. Maybe I should apply to be a contestant on Saturday Night Takeaway. I might win something.

Ryan Ormonde is a writer based in London. He attended the interview one evening after he had filled out an application form in which he included years of experience working front of house in a cinema and theatre. For the last year he has been self employed, picking up work where he can

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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