So I had passed the first hurdle! My heart was pounding with joy. Only an hour ago, I had received the email from the agency, confirming that I had been successful in the first interview. Now the Managing Partner wanted to see me. I had to be careful not to grin too smugly as otherwise the people in the shop would start looking at me suspiciously.
I quickly turned to the clothes rail with jackets and blazers. The new autumn collection had just come in and the shop was full of people who wanted to check for the latest trends. To be honest, I didn’t really pay attention to this year’s trends. Not only had I only gone to the shops to find a nice, classy blazer for my second interview but the fact that I had managed to grab the Managing Partner’s attention was so overwhelming that I just could not focus on what was in this year.
I carefully checked blazers and jackets, in classy beige, cheerful white, timeless black. They were all nice, some maybe a little bit too casual but some would make a really nice suit with the right pair of trousers. Still, I felt that I needed something special. Something that would make me stand out of the crowd. I knew that this firm wasn’t the same as my current workplace. But after all, that was exactly what I was looking for. A small firm, nice people and most of all, on the high street where I lived. This was the main reason I had applied for the position of Executive Assistant for the Managing Partner in the first place. Otherwise it wasn’t too different from my current position. Of course, they paid less than the big players in the City. Of course they were smaller in size and did only local work instead of international one. Of course their office was not as glamorous as the shiny skyscraper overlooking the River Thames. But – and it was a big but – to get to my current workplace I had to commute for more than two hours every day and that was on a good day! I didn’t dare to think about signal failures or trespassers, too scared that I might jinx my journey and got stuck for hours. I just couldn’t bear it any longer! I had to find a job near my flat, somewhere where I only had to walk a few blocks. No rush hour, no broken down trains. And now I was so close to make my dream come true.
Outside my little bubble of happiness and excitement, people were looking for the latest fashion and so the shop was rather full. Again, I didn’t really notice. I was still looking for the blazer and wasn’t going to leave the shop without. Finally, one caught my eye. It was black with white borders, quite a Chanel-type of jacket. I felt the material through my fingers, soft and elegant. It was the last one as I had not seen it amongst the other blazers but had actually found it discarded on a hanger for trousers. I smiled when I checked the label inside, it was a size 12. My size. It really was my lucky day.
I took the blazer and went to the dressing rooms. The shop assistant gave me one of the plastic cards showing that I had taken one item and I closed the curtains behind myself. The cubicle was spacious with two mirrors either side, so I could also see how my back looked. I put my jacket over one of the hooks on the wall and put on the blazer. It fitted perfectly. I could see myself shaking the Managing Partner’s hand tomorrow with confidence. I admired myself for a while in the mirror when I remembered having seen a blouse earlier that would match with the white borders of the blazer. It would only take me a second to grab it and try it on as well. I took my purse, left the blazer in the cubicle and closed the curtain from outside. “I am just going to get a blouse.” I told the shop assistant who smiled at me and told me that this was okay.
It took me a little bit longer than expected as quite a few people checked out the blouse section but eventually I found my size and went back to the changing rooms. The shop assistant nodded at me friendly and I made my way to the cubicle where I had left my blazer.
I was puzzled when I wanted to go inside the cubicle and realised that the curtain was open. Confused, I checked inside and with a certain feeling of horror, I realised that the blazer had gone. Maybe the shop assistant removed it. I am sure it is on the rail next to her desk, I thought. I went back to the shop assistant just to find a woman in front of the big mirror outside the changing rooms admiring herself in my blazer.
“Excuse me, did you just take this blazer out of one of the changing rooms?” I asked her.
The middle-aged woman glanced at me for a second without any sign of guilt on her face. “And if so?” She looked back at her reflection in the mirror, closed the button of the blazer and put it straight with her fingers.
“This is my blazer!” I cried out.
“Have you paid for it already? Do you have a receipt?” Oh, the arrogance! Of course, I had not paid for it yet and she knew it very well.
“Well, I have not paid for it. But it was in my cubicle. I just wanted to get this blouse and try it with the blazer.” I tried to argue.
“Then you should have taken the blazer with you. How am I supposed to know that you wanted it? I mean, how many people just leave things in the dressing rooms because they don’t want them?”
I felt my heart racing as well as the panic that I might lose the blazer. I said “Could I please have it back, now that you see that I do want it?”
The woman, certainly from a respectful background judging by the elegant hairstyle and the perfect make-up, just looked at me with slight surprise. “You shouldn’t have left the blazer out of your sight if it was that important to you.” she tried to lecture me. “After all, I really like it and it suits me, don’t you think?” It did but I wouldn’t have admitted it for all the money in the world.
I started to feel angry. Couldn’t she see that I really needed this blazer? I took a deep breath and tried to stay calm. “Look, I am sure you find something else that’s just as nice. Does it really have to be this particular blazer?”
“Well, why don’t you find something else? Again, if the blazer was so important to you, you should have taken it with you when you left the dressing rooms.” This was going nowhere.
“You could order it online?”
“So could you.” Yes, I could but I wouldn’t get it until tomorrow morning. “Look, just be more careful next time. You can’t expect other people to know what you want and what you don’t want if you leave things in the changing rooms. And now, please excuse me, I am going to buy this blazer.” She removed the blazer, put it over her left arm and went to the till, leaving me behind with an expression of defeat on my face.
The next morning – I had taken off the day – I was at the offices at 9.00am for the second interview. It was a cold but sunny morning and I enjoyed the walk through the park to the office on the high street. I had put on one of my old suits which still looked fine and I hoped it would still be impressive enough.
I was sent upstairs by the receptionist on the ground floor and greeted by of the secretaries who currently worked for the Managing Partner but who would go back to her old job once the vacancy had been filled. She asked me if I would like to have some tea or coffee and I politely declined not wanting to potentially spill something on myself given that I was a bit nervous. She asked me to have a seat at one of the chairs next to her desk and told me that the Managing Partner would be with me any minute.
Five minutes later, in which I went over and over again certain standard questions, the door to the Managing Partner’s office opened and I could only look on in absolute surprise. It was definitely her, her hairstyle, her perfect make-up and – my blazer. She shook his hand with a bright smile on her face and thanked him for the interview. He smiled back at her and asked her to have a seat; he would like to speak to her once he had interviewed the second applicant. That was me.
I forced myself to smile and I nodded at her. The surprise in her eyes confirmed that she also recognised me. The Managing Partner asked me to come into his office.
The interview was friendly, more like a chat and he seemed to be pleased with my answers. After about 20 minutes, he asked me to wait for him outside, he would like to discuss things with the HR manager and then he would let us know his decision.
I left his office and took a seat next to her. For a while none of us said a word. I stared at the philodendron in the corner and hoped for the best regarding the job.
Suddenly she said, “I am sorry.” I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me though I couldn’t imagine that she would use her mobile phone in this situation. I turned to my left and looked at her. Her expression was much nicer than the day before and she genuinely looked apologetic. I raised my eyebrows, not really sure what she apologised for.
“You know. For yesterday. I am really sorry. I was not very friendly yesterday, was I?”
I swallowed, fully aware about the presence of the other secretary at her desk in front of us. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I just nodded.
“I am not like that usually. I was just so nervous about today and I really needed this jacket. For the last 13 years, I didn’t have to look for work wear, so my wardrobe only holds one suit. I mean, I never expected to come back for a second round. So I just realised yesterday that I could not come back in the same clothes like the other day.” She seemed really embarrassed about the fact that she only had one suit. Sheepishly, I had to think about the 20 suits in my wardrobe, all City-style.
“I am sorry too. I shouldn’t have made a scene.” I apologised.
She smiled and said, “Don’t worry. You didn’t. Trust me, I have seen worse lately. I go through a divorce, you can imagine.” she winked at me. I honestly couldn’t, being 24 and a single. But I tried to give her the impression that I was sympathetic. “Gosh, I was really so surprised when the agency told me that I should come back. The last time I saw an office was 13 years ago. That’s when I got pregnant with Josh, my first-born.” She sighed. “And then five years later, when I wanted to go back to work, I had Patrick. And again, after three years, when things between me and my husband already were bleak, we tried to reconcile and Michael was born. Well, with three boys in the house, you rather wear jeans and tracksuits, not pencil skirts and white blouses.” She sighed again and just now I could see the deep lines of worry on her forehead. “But then my husband left me. You know, just like in the First Wives Club, I was the old cow and he replaced me with the new cow.” Somehow, I felt very aware of my age but still at the same time, I felt truly sorry for her. “So, I need to earn the money. And at the same time, I need to find a job near my house so that I can get home quickly for the boys. They want clean clothes, food on the table, help with the homework and a tidy house. I wouldn’t be able to make all that after a long day in the office and a long journey.” She looked at the resume in her hands. “It’s a miracle that he understands the big gap in my CV. But he’s got three boys himself.”
I looked at her CV and noticed that she had attended one of the best colleges for Business Administration in the country and she had worked in top positions before she had become a mother. Who was I to take this away from her? I was young, I had a secure position in the City in which I earned even more than here but she would need this money to give her boys the best start in life. Guilt crept up my throat. “The blazer really suits you.” I tried to reassure her.
“Thanks.” she smiled her warm, motherly smile.
The door opened and the Managing Partner stepped out of his office with a short brunette woman, the HR manager. “I have to say, it was really a very hard decision, you are the last two candidates for this position and both of you have spectacular CVs, so we really had to think hard about this decision.”
“I am really sorry to interrupt you but I think I would like to make your decision easier.” Everyone, even the secretary in the corner of her desk who was typing on her PC looked at me in surprise. My competitor raised her eyebrows and everyone was waiting for what I had to say. “I think, that my colleague here would be most suitable for the position. She has attended one of the best colleges in this country whereas I have only picked up the profession by practical experience. Which she has too, in some great firms which you can benefit from. And she’s got a great dress sense, so she will represent your office perfectly.” I smiled at her and I could see that she could not believe what she heard.
“But what about you?” the Managing Partner asked.
“I withdraw my application. You have already found the right person for the job. But thanks a lot for the opportunity.” I shook his hand and then I shook hers. Everyone was still looking at me in amazement.
“Well then, congratulations!” The Managing Partner was the first who found his voice again and shook the hand of his new assistant.
I could see a little tear in her eye when she said “Thank you.” but I knew it was a tear of joy and relief. I went to the door and left the office with a smile on my face, knowing that losing is sometimes exactly the right thing.