Awkward Interviews: Kingston Edition

Phone boxes in Kingston. Image Credit: garryknight, Flickr
Phone boxes near Kingston University.

One of the reasons I decided to study in London in 2007 is that I would also be able to work. At the time, anyone completing a degree course in the UK was permitted to work up to 20 hours per week.

Among the multitude of places I applied to, Gymboree was one of the few who called back, so off I went for another weird interview in London.

Gymboree is essentially a gym for kids under the age of five. They play with giant tubes, rubber balls, and sock puppets. Apparently Gymboree also offers baby massage. I don’t even want to think about all of the babies who are being professionally massaged as a break from their strenuous life of laying around and crapping their pants.

Really. I can’t think about it.

This particular branch of Gymboree was on the top floor of an old brick building, above a flash gym for adults. My interview was scheduled for 8:30PM (warning bells should have gone off at this time) and I was told to wear comfortable clothes and socks (more warning bells that failed to sound).

My interviewer was also the owner, a perky blonde lady whose name I can’t remember – we’ll call her Natalie.

“I’ll give you five minutes to have a look around. Find some props and come up with a mock class. Aim for about fifteen minutes of activity. Then I’ll come back in and we’ll run through it.”

The door closed and I was alone in the cavernous playspace, surrounded by primary colors and foam mats.

Gymboree. Like a zoo for kids.

Find some – what?

I frantically rifled through some soft boxes on a shelf against the wall.

Finger puppets! Finger puppets that looked like spiders. I had it! The Eensy-Weensy Spider. That was two minutes taken care of.

Wait – we could sing it twice.

Four minutes.

I stuck my arm into a jumble of shapes in the corner to extract a long, hollow tube.

Excellent. We would definitely climb through that a couple of times. I could incorporate the plastic slide and call it a mini-obstacle course.

That would probably take about, oh, I don’t know? Five minutes?

Then it came to me. Duck Duck Goose. Everybody loves Duck Duck Goose.

“Ready to go?” Natalie was leaning through the doorway.

I pasted on my i-love-kids smile. (What? You don’t have one of those smiles?)

“I’m ready!”

She pulled two soft clown dolls from the shelf. One was the size of a three-year-old child and the other was its mini-me.

“You’ll have to pretend these are the kids,” she explained. “I’ll be one, too.”

Right. I got it now. This was a full-on audition.

Natalie, the clowns, and I sat cross-legged in a circle on the mat. Natalie and I did, anyway. The clowns just kind of slumped over in a very unconvincing performance.

“Hi guys,” I said, using a voice that was at least two octaves higher than normal. “How are you today?”

“Great!” Natalie squeaked, in an uncanny likeness of a little girl. “I’m Jillian.” She held the large clown doll and waved its arms in the air.

I wasn’t sure if the doll was supposed to be a child or a toy. I decided to go for broke.

“Well, hi, Jillian! And what’s your name?” I asked the doll.

“It’s David,” Natalie said, in a slightly deeper voice. She even held the clown in front of her face to make it more realistic.

“Hi, David! Nice to meet you.” I shook its hand and died a little inside.

“Hello there, what’s your name?” I addressed the miniature clown doll.

Natalie shuffled to her right and picked up the doll.

“My name is Patricia.” She was barely audible. It seemed that Patricia wasn’t exactly comfortable with strangers.

I lowered my voice and leaned towards the doll. “Hi, Patricia,” I whispered. “Nice to meet you. Do you know The Eensy-Weensy Spider?”

With Natalie’s help, Patricia nodded.

I distributed the spider finger puppets and we sang the hell out of The Eensy-Weensy Spider. Natalie stuck to Jillian’s voice, but helped David hit it out of the park with his hand gestures.

“Wow, that was so fun,” I said. “Do you want to sing it again?”

“Yeah!”chorused Jillian, David, and Patricia. (I don’t know how she did it, but I’m telling you it was a chorus.)

Spider was followed by a high-intensity obstacle course.

I crouched at the bottom of the two-foot slide and coaxed Patricia down as Natalie guided her from behind. We all clambered through the tube and I was sweating by the time Duck Duck Goose came around.

Three Sisters
Re-creating Gymboree in 2010 with my sisters in Fishers, Indiana. We do stuff like this.

I hadn’t prepared for the immobility of two of my participants, but Natalie was more than capable of playing all three parts. She was obviously well-suited for her job as Gymboree owner.

Finally, exhausted by physical activity and the mental strain of pretending two dolls and an adult woman were toddlers, I dismissed the class.

“Hey, look, your moms are here,” I said. “It’s time to go home. Goodbye!”

Natalie seamlessly switched back into professional mode.

“That was fantastic,” she said. “Now I’d like to go through some of the interview questions.”

I was relieved. This part, I was prepared for.

She went out of the room and returned to the mats holding a clipboard and wearing black-framed glasses. We resumed the cross-legged position for the remainder of the interview.

“So, Lauren. Can you tell me what you consider to be your three strengths?”

Aha. Interview 101.

“I’m a fast learner, friendly, and professional,” I said.

She nodded and consulted her clipboard. “And what are three of your weaknesses?”

“Well, I’m American, so sometimes I don’t understand British slang,” I said. I’d prepared that one ahead of time.

She laughed, as I had planned.

“I also like to know exactly what is going on when I start a new job, so sometimes it takes me a week or two to really come out of my shell. At first I’m just observing to get the hang of everything.”

“I see,” she said.

“Umm…and…” Oh, awkward. I might as well have said  that I don’t have a third weakness.

“You don’t have a third?” Natalie teased.

“Ha ha.” I was racking my brain. “I’m a student, so I can only work part-time.”

“Well, this is a part-time position, so I guess you’re in luck,” she said. “OK, just one more question for you. Can you please sing

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?”

She stared at me through the heavy frames, waiting.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Time to shine.

Oh, God, she was serious.

I took a deep breath and launched into my solo. At this point, I really had nothing to lose. Jillian, David and Patricia had pretty much taken my last shred of dignity.

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.”

I got through the whole song without my voice breaking. Natalie even applauded at the end.

“Great job,” she said, standing up.

I followed her lead and we bounced across the mats to the door.

“I’ll consult with my husband,” she said, “then give you a call about the next step.”

I had visions of balancing a ball on my nose and barking like a seal.

“Next step?” I asked.

“Uh-huh,” she said. “For the second interview we’ll bring you into a class with mothers and babies. That way we get to see how you do in a real-life situation.”

It dawned on me exactly what this job really entailed. I realized I didn’t have the energy to keep up with the Patricias, Jillians, Davids, and their mothers. I’d done plenty of unusual jobs, but I was in London to focus on my master’s in travel writing.

This wasn’t what I wanted to do, even for a measly 20 hours a week.

Natalie called to invite me for a second interview, but I politely declined.

I never saw Natalie, Patricia, Jillian, or David again.

Tree in Bath, England
Looking back, it becomes clear why I struggled to find a job. Taken in Bath, England.




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