Secretarial: From office heroine to job-seeker in one fell swoop

The Temp
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The Independent Culture
SO, HAVING been the unwitting instrument of someone else's downfall, I found myself typing up her resignation. The moment the people in this department got hold of Ellen's expenses form, they went up to the Big Cheese and went through it with him, false claim by false claim. Amazingly, instead of firing her on the spot, he called her in to his office and suggested she go away and think and, having done so, re-submit a new claim.

Now, you would have thought that being given another chance like that would humble anyone. But not Ellen. She went away, thought and sent a memo. I'm not sure why she handed this to me to type up, as it must have been patently obvious that it was someone in her department who had shopped her, but perhaps she was so used to getting someone else to do the donkey work for her that it just did not occur to her to do anything else.

"Dear Big Cheese," it said. Well, of course, it didn't, but you get the gist. "Thank you for your inquiry about my expenses claim form. As you know, I have been a loyal employee of this company for some years and have consistently got the best out of my staff. As a result, I am exceptionally busy and have been unable to leave my desk for lunch this month at all. The claim was in lieu of lunches I intend to take with my staff when I have the time to do so. I am insulted that you should have interpreted it in any other way."

The day after the Big Cheese received this memo, Ellen got her black bin liner, everyone in the department moved up a rung and told me I was a marvel, and an application was made for a new PA. Might have guessed. So at the moment I'm helping find the ideal replacement for myself.

And doing this, I get an interesting insight into how people read CVs. They don't look at qualifications, they don't look at experience, they don't even look at all those hobbies you made up. No; the only thing that interests anyone about a CV is the name at the top of it. I had always thought that a name said something about your parents' taste. Apparently not. Apparently it says everything about your personality as well.

Lisa, now head of department, and Mark, now her number two, do the initial run. "How about this one?" says Mark, handing over the CV of someone with 120wpm shorthand and five years' experience in the City. Lisa snorts. "Sally?" she says. "I'm not having any Sally working in my department." "Why not?" I say. "Too soppy. Sallys are always drippy." "Yerr," says Mark. "That, or bouncy like a dog. Spend their weekends playing hockey."

Sally goes on the rejected pile. Next up is Farida, rejected on the grounds that she probably won't have good enough language skills despite a degree in English. Kevin simply elicits a sardonic laugh. "Now, look," says Lisa, "How 'bout this one?" "Penny?" says Mark. "You've got to be kidding." "What's wrong with Penny?" says Lisa. "Don't be silly," says Mark. "Pennys have mouse-coloured hair and wear taupe." "Mmm," says Lisa, "You've got a point."

"Now, here we go," Mark says. "That's more like it." Lisa takes a shufty and pulls a face. "Caroline Hobbs-Bazayt? We can't be having any double barrels." "She'll sound great answering the phone." "Yeah, right, when she's here and not off in the country staying with her cousin the Duke of Rutland." "Mmm. P'raps you're right. She would think she was too good for us." "Probably get married after six months anyway."

The pile shrinks until it contains three names only: Jane, Marie and Fiona. Mark favours Fiona - "posh but not too posh. Ambitious, of course" - and Lisa favours Jane because her best friend is called Jane. "Well, that's no way to choose a secretary," says Mark. "And anyway, I went out with a Jane and she was a total psycho." "Well, that's fine," Lisa returns, "But the only Fiona I've ever known was a complete fabulist."

Marie gets the job.