The head-hunter was being particularly persuasive, and I suppose I should have been flattered - and too bad I didn't fit the profile of the job she was insisting suited me to a T! Why didn't I at least take a meeting? Maybe the job could be tweaked to accommodate my very valid concerns about their clarity regarding the job profile. Did I have any questions that she could take back to the company? "Yes," I said, "I want to know about the condition of the office toilets."
It wasn't totally out of the blue though it was, even by my reckoning of wanting to get the person off the phone, a cheap blow. But then, a few days previously, someone who'd applied to me for a job had asked precisely that.
Not what she was expected to report on, not how much we were paying in these times of recession, merely the condition of our toilets which she then inspected and pronounced satisfactory. (No, she didn't get the job.)
Still, different people have different expectations. Long years ago when I worked in publishing and was trying to woo a particularly elusive editor, I suggested she might want to join for the excellent coffee the company provided.
These days, when coffee comes out of a machine, and in three blends - sweet, very sweet, and bloody sweet - it hardly matters to employees what brew a company is offering, but once it might have been the factor that tipped the scale. Not in this case though. "Sod the coffee," said the editor, "how much does the job pay?"
And yet, those negotiating jobs list some interesting inclusions into their contracts. Like the CEO who wanted not just five bottles of mineral water for his office every day, but of a particular brand as well.
While the business class seat and the annual family break and the upgraded sedan are par for the course, there are some who have insisted on - and got - allowances for such things as Mont Blanc pens (as part of office stationery), party shoes (to attend board meetings), hair gel (presumably to attend office parties), weekly sushi takeaways (for office meetings, when colleagues would rather have samosas), quarterly offsites in Goa (no one knows how this one works), hand-washes and soaps of a particular brand (in the aforementioned toilets, no matter the state of their hygiene), a chauffeur with a hat (a stupid affectation given the average temperature of Indian cities), a reserved slot in the office or building car park (understandable), the right to a 30-minute siesta post-lunch (I love this man), a play station for the office computer ("a stress-buster," an executive explained, though it wasn't him but his boss who'd got that particular perk), and even fresh cut flowers on the table every day (yes, this from a woman boss).
Quirky? Not for the dozens of people I asked, cornering them for an informal survey conducted unorthodoxly over vodkas and whiskies at cocktail parties this last week, to find what they'd want as they went about jobbing, or job-hunting, in these depressed times. "Darling," said one, "I'll settle for personalised cushions to match the stationery. Of course, the money has to be good." "Money don't matter," said her companion, "but no way I'll accept an offer unless they give me patterned toilet paper in the loo."
Which is what I said to the head-hunter now, only she didn't seem too impressed. "You want to inspect the company's toilets and you want customised toilet rolls?" she asked incredulously. "The only thing," I assured her, "money don't count." The penny dropped for her then. "You must have a really bad stomach," she said to me.
You can't win them all.