Following Advice

When I was in my twenties I applied for a 6 month internship scheme at the BBC in their costume division. I had gone in clutching my portfolio and a couple of garments I’d made, all of which were scrutinised at length by the two interviewers before me. One of the most poignant bits of the interview was being told that I couldn’t be a maker and a designer. I had to choose one and stick to it. Needless to say, I didn’t get the internship.

I remember, at the same time, applying for jobs in some of the costume houses in London. I was trying to take the traditional route into my line of business. I went for an interview at the Bermans and Nathan warehouse, I forget where, but I was late because no public transport seemed to run anywhere near it. I was utterly depressed by the end by the miserable face of a solitary seamstress toiling away at garments she would never see on stage or even on a human being and I wondered what on earth I was doing. I loved what I did. Is this how I was to end up?

I didn’t get that one either not surprisingly. But I didn’t care much. I think that’s when I decided to go into admin and immediately enjoyed decent salary status. But that was the 90s.

Tarnished by my experiences I gave up costume design for a while although I did ironically end up being a freelance costumier working from home for some considerable time before ending up where I am now.

The thing is people within their own business are not necessarily the best judges of a potential recruit. How often have you seen someone get a job in your place of work only to witness that they seem completely unable to carry out the role? Or you failed an interview because you KNOW the successful candidate was going to take a lower salary than you. If you pay peanuts you get monkeys. Six months later you’ll probably see that job advertised again.

Not everyone is great at putting themselves across. I am rubbish at job interviews. I’ve never got a job through one from what I can recall. But I was always offered permanent positions through temping. Because when people saw me doing a job, they realised I was good at it.

It’s why I don’t bother with interviews anymore. There’s really no point. When I want office work I join agencies. It’s bread and butter money.

When you run your own business, you’re constantly proving yourself, but in a hands on way. You’re only as good as your last project or your last photoshoot, or possibly your last commission. No one wants to see your CV or ask for references, they want to see actual work, photographs, to see who you’ve collaborated with before. And your aim is always to up your standard.

If I’d believed all the advice I was given and taken, truly, to heart all the failed job interviews and placements I have gone through I wouldn’t be here now, running my own business and doing what I always wanted to do. I may not be the best, and I may never really stand out in the greater scheme of things, but at least I’m on the right road. More importantly I enjoy my work.

If you want to do something, if you have a passion, and you know where your life is headed, stick to your guns. Because the people who should know, don’t always.


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