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Epic Fails

Is this the PA Job from Hell? Epic Fails

Is this the PA Job from Hell?
“All aboard for the job from hell…”

Most of us have had some pretty shocking jobs in our time. Olivia, marketing executive at AllAboutCareers.com, is no exception. Here she shares her worst job experience. Want to know what it is? We’ll give you a clue: it involves old chewing gum and double decker buses. Intrigued? We thought so… 


During the summer holidays between my first and second year of university, I thought I should stop living off my overdraft and parental donations and get myself a job. I mentioned on Facebook that I was looking for temporary work and my friend pointed me in the direction of an entrepreneur recruiting for a personal assistant.

Thrilled at the prospect of finding a job so easily, I went to an interview. It transpired that the entrepreneur owned a specialist boat shop which didn’t make any money, but his lifestyle was supported by an incredibly successful father who owned a famous brand of drink. This meant that he didn’t have the necessary motivation or hunger to run a business, which in turn meant that his managerial style was as competent as Tom is at catching Jerry. I should have realised this at the interview and ran a mile, but I was so excited by the entrepreneur’s laid-back attitude, tipsy from the copious amounts of free booze that his bohemian mates were plying me with, and star struck by his two A-list celebrity friends, that I eagerly took the job.

The boat shop

The next day I arrived at the shop on time keen to start work. After spending a year between A-levels and university working as a secretary for a city council, I was excited by what kind of admin work would be associated with such an interesting company. The entrepreneur made an appearance a full hour and a half later, opened up, showed me where the cash register was and left for the day. I then spent one of the most painful days of my life, dealing with boat enthusiasts who were asking me to find specific boat parts and quizzing me about their sailing equipment needs. I may be from Portsmouth, but I certainly don’t have sea legs, and my knowledge of sailing is practically non-existent. Worse than that, I didn’t know where anything was located in the shop; the highlight of my day was locating the toilet after half an hour of looking.

As instructed, I locked up the shop at 8pm and left feeling like I'd been in one of those dreams where you fail an exam you didn’t know you had to take. I vividly remember the shop making a grand total of £5 that day, which has got to be some kind of record!  I’m also sure I got that £5 through someone taking pity on me. This continued for the entire week, but I battled on, convinced it would get better. Sadly, it got so much worse.

Missing In Action

On Monday morning, I was instructed to meet the entrepreneur at his office. Thank God, I thought. The shop must have been a one-off and now he’ll use me to the best of my capabilities as a PA.  I arrived at 10am and gave him a ring at 11.30am to find out where he was. He was at the airport getting an impromptu flight to the Bahamas and he’d be back in a week. I was told to take the week off and he’d see me the following Monday. As his office was on the other side of London and it had taken me an hour to get there, I was fuming. But did I quit and look for another job? No, like some kind of stubborn masochistic mule, I carried on.

The double-decker bus

The next Monday it felt like I was in Groundhog Day. I arrived at the office half expecting to get turned away again. But he was there! I was so pleased and even more thrilled when he told me he had an exciting project for me to work on. ANYTHING has to be better than what I’d been doing so far, right? He took me outside (warning sign: as a PA, nothing good ever starts outside) and presented me with an old double decker bus. While he had been abroad, he’d had the revelation that he should sell the shop and set up a pop-up shop in a double decker bus. He wanted me to turn the old bus into a showroom by Friday that week. One look inside and I nearly cried: a lifetime of chewing gum was stuck to the floor and under the seats. There were cobwebs in every nook and cranny. The dirt was so thick on the floor and windows that even the Twits would have been shocked.

“Oh God,” I hear you lament, “Please tell me you quit?” Alas no, kind reader, I was oddly pleased to actually have something to do. I think by this point if he'd asked me to stand on the spot, balancing on one leg all day, I probably would have enjoyed the challenge.

So I spent the week on my hands and knees scrubbing this unbelievably filthy floor and slowly chipping away at fossilised pieces of chewing gum. I even had to get my friends to help me remove the chairs as it was physically too demanding for my weak arms. After spending every single day labouring over the bus, and working until midnight on the Thursday, it was finally ready for the event on Friday. I, on the other hand, felt like a battered shell of my former self. The confident PA character I started the job as had been replaced by a bedraggled girl who looked unnervingly like a Victorian chimney sweep. I was left picking cobwebs out of my hair and cleaning the dirt from under my nails all weekend. By Monday, I had come down with a horrible virus.

The final straw

I dutifully turned up for work the next week, hoping that my hard work on the bus would result in more responsibility. Instead, I was back in the shop. By Thursday my virus had got ten times worse and I crawled into the shop for work. At about 1pm the entrepreneur turned up and angrily asked if a man he was planning to have a meeting with had arrived yet. I said I wasn’t sure, as I had been downstairs for the last five minutes sorting the stock and he completely flipped out. He shouted that I was letting his business down by being too ill to work effectively.  At this point, it was like a switch in my head had been flicked and sanity had been restored. I put down the stock, looked him in the eyes and calmly said, “No, you are letting your own business down by not having a bloody clue what you are doing. Now if you excuse me, I’m leaving and I’m not coming back. I’ll expect my pay in my bank account.”

I marched to the tube and I probably would have felt very proud of myself, if I hadn’t had to run off the tube every three stops to throw up from the flu.

What have I learnt from this? Well, to trust my instincts: if a job seems like bad news, chances are it probably is! Above all, I’ve learnt that the best jobs in life are those you have to work hard to get. Strolling into a job seemed like a dream at a time, but looking back it only highlighted the lack of management ability and structure. Last but not least, I’ve learnt that there are abused, neglected busses out there that need our help. Maybe I’ll use my experience to set up a charity called The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Buses, any donations gratefully received. Or maybe not. 

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