Upwardly Mobile

by Maeve O’Lynn

I went for an interview with a marketing company fourteen years ago. Wet behind the ears, fresh out of university, I thought maybe marketing was something a person might plausibly do with an English degree and a huge student loan and no real idea what to do about either of those immovable realities.

They asked me to bring a photograph of myself to talk about. It didn’t really occur to me to question this request and being a pre-smart phone era, I then had to find a printed picture in which I wasn’t being too boring to render me utterly undistinguished but also not behaving like the 22-year-old literary flâneuse I was either, drinking to abandon, smeared with eyeliner and draped in vintage clothing.

This narrowed my choice significantly.

I opted for a picture taken at a festival, Oxegen 2004 maybe or Electric Picnic 2006. I have only just arrived at whatever event this is, so I’m still in what I hope a prospective employer will consider to be a reasonable state. I’m in a field, pitching a cheap tent, badly. I have a fringe, a style which has never and, I fear, will never be at all flattering to my face. I wear a sleeveless dark purple vest from Topshop. Around me there is grass, the edges of other equally poorly pitched tents, a foreboding slate grey sky. I look happy, I think, maybe a little uncertain, though at twenty-two maybe those two emotions are one and the same thing. My cheeks are flushed, my grin is toothy, unselfconscious. I can’t remember who took the photo – a friend I was with, my boyfriend at the time, maybe.

What this picture does offer, I come to realise, is an inoffensively blank canvas onto which can be projected any number of things. I am interviewed by the marketing company in their office with the sliding red Perspex walls, pool tables and PlayStation situated in an old building in the Gasworks, a site once considered unsuitable for most uses, due to contamination. The panel like the photograph. It’s enough to get me a second, stilted interview at a tapas bar. What one of the paternalistic but determinedly hip men interviewing me seems to have decided is that I am fun, I am adaptable, a team player, someone who went away for university but who has come back to her hometown, someone who is just delighted to be “back with the girls”. He wants me to have a safe, trusted inner circle of exclusively female friends that I have yearned to be back with in my years away from home. He wants us to be homogenous, upwardly mobile, hardworking, quietly ambitious, unified with some type of purpose. There are, it should be said, no girls in this photograph, except for me.

I don’t know why he seems so invested in this, why he wants this for me, what this would reveal about me as a prospective employee, what statement this would make about his brand.

I don’t know what it says about me that these assumptions he makes are not true.