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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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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn turns "the nasty party" back on Theresa May

The Labour leader exploited Conservative splits over disability benefits.

It didn't take long for Theresa May to herald the Conservatives' Copeland by-election victory at PMQs (and one couldn't blame her). But Jeremy Corbyn swiftly brought her down to earth. The Labour leader denounced the government for "sneaking out" its decision to overrule a court judgement calling for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to be extended to those with severe mental health problems.

Rather than merely expressing his own outrage, Corbyn drew on that of others. He smartly quoted Tory backbencher Heidi Allen, one of the tax credit rebels, who has called on May to "think agan" and "honour" the court's rulings. The Prime Minister protested that the government was merely returning PIPs to their "original intention" and was already spending more than ever on those with mental health conditions. But Corbyn had more ammunition, denouncing Conservative policy chair George Freeman for his suggestion that those "taking pills" for anxiety aren't "really disabled". After May branded Labour "the nasty party" in her conference speech, Corbyn suggested that the Tories were once again worthy of her epithet.

May emphasised that Freeman had apologised and, as so often, warned that the "extra support" promised by Labour would be impossible without the "strong economy" guaranteed by the Conservatives. "The one thing we know about Labour is that they would bankrupt Britain," she declared. Unlike on previous occasions, Corbyn had a ready riposte, reminding the Tories that they had increased the national debt by more than every previous Labour government.

But May saved her jibe of choice for the end, recalling shadow cabinet minister Cat Smith's assertion that the Copeland result was an "incredible achivement" for her party. "I think that word actually sums up the Right Honourable Gentleman's leadership. In-cred-ible," May concluded, with a rather surreal Thatcher-esque flourish.

Yet many economists and EU experts say the same of her Brexit plan. Having repeatedly hailed the UK's "strong economy" (which has so far proved resilient), May had better hope that single market withdrawal does not wreck it. But on Brexit, as on disability benefits, it is Conservative rebels, not Corbyn, who will determine her fate.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.