Jonathan Chesterfield strides along the road, the outstanding candidate for the vacant post at the Savoy Hotel. Smartly dressed in a crisp grey suit, shoes freshly polished. He checks his watch: forty-five minutes until his interview. Perfect amount of time – long enough that there’s no chance of being late, but not so long that he’ll be embarrassingly early and look as if he’s been preparing for nothing else for weeks. Time management is crucial. Plan for every minute. Well, he’s done precisely that for today’s interview: rising with his alarm clock at seven-thirty, showering for ten minutes exactly, eating a breakfast he pre-planned for slow energy release. One soft-boiled egg, three slices of toast with marmalade, two fortifying cups of tea. Then precisely an hour doing the same thing he’s done every day: rehearsing his answers to questions the interviewer, a Mr Allan, might ask.
What are your strengths?
(Modest laugh.) Well, this question’s rather a minefield, isn’t it! I suppose there’s my modesty, to start! (Mental note: judge whether it’s the right situation where a joke would be appropriate.) No, but seriously. I think I’m a good team player. I put my organisation before myself. That’s what I’ve proved at Lloyds, and before that at Butlins and Spar, my previous employers. I would also say that I’m well-organised and efficient. I’ve been to see this (insert flattering adjective here) hotel in action and noticed how smoothly it all runs. You need someone who can fit into that, who can become part of that well-oiled machine – an important part, but unobtrusive. I think that’s me. Also, I’m particularly proud of my time management, which I feel would be a huge asset to the team here at the Savoy.’
And any weaknesses?
‘Well, everyone has weaknesses, of course. I’d say that I often set myself unfairly high standards, and perhaps sometimes the same to people around me. At Spar I was occasionally told off – sounds funny – for working intimidating amounts of overtime, or for keeping my own department in such good order that other areas of the shop looked rather shabby. I’m always eager to learn from criticism, and I’ve learned from those experiences that you always have to make allowances for others in your team.’
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
‘In your chair, but asking better questions! (Deferential laugh.) No, but seriously. I’d hope that I’ll be doing what I’m doing now – operating at a high level while delivering great service – but within a position of increased responsibility. I’d like to think that by that time, I’ll have proved my worth to this hotel and, God willing, would be a major part of its hierarchy. I don’t see the Savoy Hotel as merely some sort of stepping stone to a bigger place. I see the next five years as being a great process of – ’
A woman rushes past, her folded umbrella snagging on his jacket. The two of them glance briefly at each other, annoyed; then she hurries on, out of his life. He looks down in case there’s a mark on his jacket. Nothing, so he settles back into his interview rehearsal as the sun spills over the brickwork of Charing Cross station up ahead.
What in particular attracts you to the Savoy Hotel?
‘Of course, I’ve been aware of the outstanding reputation of this hotel for a long time, like anyone interested in London life. (Mental note: try saying this as if you’ve lived in London for ages, rather than moved down from Coventry just two years ago.) I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that it’s an institution, a well-respected establishment not just to stay at, but do whatever you want. And I would love to be someone who can help guests to – ’
A double-decker bus swerves past; Jonathan instinctively flinches away as if it might lurch onto the pavement. He glances up at its gleaming red shell bathed in bright sunshine, and vaguely notices the banner advert for a romantic comedy ‘now showing in cinemas!’. He saw the same ad last week. No date. Had it been included, Jonathan might have remembered what day he last saw it, and perhaps realised that his Savoy interview was actually meant to take place then. And so he continues onward, the perfect candidate, mentally rehearsing his finely chiselled answers to questions that will never be asked.
While in the Savoy, now only a hundred yards ahead, the person who already got the job a week earlier is happily at work.
© 2020 | Tom Burton